Layoffs or hires?
But in two other reports out Wednesday, employers signaled they were more likely to slash jobs than hire workers. According to the global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., employers' plans to lay off workers surged to a 16-month high of 66,414 in July.
The report called the layoffs, the highest monthly total since March 2010, "sudden and unexpected." It also said that job cuts by Merck & Co., Borders, Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin and Boston Scientific accounted for 57 percent of the July total.
In a statement, CEO John Challenger said he'd understand if Americans concluded that the "wheels just fell off the recovery wagon."
Also Wednesday, a report by the payrolls processor ADP said private employers added 114,000 jobs in July, less than the revised 145,000 it reported for June.
Analysts say those latest figures reflect employers' concerns about a frail recovery and are keeping them from hiring more workers.
"Businesses aren't hiring because consumers aren't spending," says Paul Dales, a senior economist for Capital Economics. "It's a vicious circle."
According to a forecast by the Blue Chip Economic Indicators, unemployment will come down next year but only slightly — to an average 8.3 percent.
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.