The jobs growth engine picked up steam in July as employers created a higher than expected 117,000 positions, nudging the unemployment rate down a tenth of a point to 9.1 percent, the government said Friday. But the good news had little impact in calming rattled financial markets.
For older workers, the news was mixed. The unemployment rate for men 55-plus fell to 7.4 percent in July from 7.9 percent the previous month, according to the report by the Bureau of Labor of Statistics.
For women, the rate rose to 7.3 percent from 6.3 percent.
And older workers as a whole had a tougher time landing a job than younger adults, a story that has played out month after month. The average length of unemployment for workers 55-plus was up slightly to 52.7 weeks as of July from 52.4 weeks in the previous month's report.
For people under 55, it also rose, to 36.5 weeks from 35.6 weeks.
"The continuing very high unemployment rate for people 55-plus is very disturbing," says Sara Rix, senior strategic adviser for AARP.
"No matter how you slice it, things are not likely to look up anytime soon. Most troublesome is that the longer one is out of work the more difficult it is to find employment."
The dip in the unemployment rate from June's 9.2 percent wasn't only due to gains in employment. More than 200,000 unemployed workers left the labor force — often because they had grown too discouraged with their prospects for finding work — and were no longer counted by the government as unemployed.
Overall, the jobs number for July pleasantly surprised economists, following a string of reports signaling a stalled recovery and new financial turmoil in Europe.
In early trading, markets appeared to welcome the news, gaining back some of the ground lost Thursday when the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted 513 points in the worst day on Wall Street in nearly three years.
But it proved to be a turbulent day. Later in the morning, those gains were erased as stocks headed sharply down and kept going—before rebounding as news spread of potentially helpful market moves by the European Central Bank. The Dow closed 61 points higher.
'A step in the right direction'
Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics, calls the numbers in the report "a step in the right direction."
"But it needs to be put in perspective," he adds. "Expectations were set very low" concerning job growth.
"The economy is still improving in fits and starts," says Sweet. "The health of the economy will hinge on the labor market improving. Hopefully, this gets the ball rolling and we'll see stronger gains over the next few months."
In July, job growth was focused in health care, retail and manufacturing, while local and state governments continued to shed workers. Of the 37,000 government jobs reported lost, most were due to the Minnesota government shutdown, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.