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Bad jobs data tests White House braggadocio

The U.S. economy lost 33,000 positions in September, largely due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma
Employment, economy, labour market
U.S. President Donald Trump greets people as he arrives to view Hurricane Irma recovery efforts in Naples, Florida, U.S. September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Gina Chon

WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) — The latest bad jobs data will test the White House’s braggadocio. The U.S. economy lost 33,000 positions in September, largely due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It’s probably a temporary blip. But it’s awkward for President Donald Trump and his aides, who have touted monthly employment gains and other snapshot economic figures when it suits them.

Payrolls fell for the first time last month since September 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Friday. The impact of hurricanes Harvey and Irma particularly hit the food and drinks services sector, causing 105,000 job losses. Average hourly wages rose by a healthy 12 cents in September, though that’s partly because many lower-wage jobs in the restaurant industry were excluded from the survey.

After repeatedly calling government jobs figures fake during his presidential campaign, Trump and his allies changed their tune after they took office in January. Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the 216,000 jobs created that month reflected confidence in Trump. The reason for the inconsistency? Jobs data might have been phony before, but it’s real now.

The bragging isn’t limited to labour market data. The administration embraced the 3.1 per cent GDP growth in the second quarter, and Trump boasted that his predecessor Barack Obama never reached the three per cent mark on an annual basis. But Trump isn’t likely to hit that target either. GDP growth probably fell in the third quarter, partly because of the hurricanes – and the Federal Reserve expects economic expansion this year and next to hover around two per cent.

National Economic Council director Gary Cohn told Bloomberg TV on Friday that there was “a lot of noise” in the September jobs report, and said he’s focused on other aspects of the data, such as decent wage growth and a drop in unemployment to 4.2 per cent. But an administration that has claimed credit for apparent upswings has to own the downturns, too.

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