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Private survey suggests job growth remains mediocre

By Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — September looks like another mediocre month for job growth.

Private-sector employers added 162,000 jobs last month, according to a survey released Wednesday by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. That doesn’t bode well for the official monthly jobs report that will be issued Friday by the Labor Department.

ADP’s surveys have overshot the government’s tally by an average of about 50,000 in recent months. As such, economists largely stuck with their forecast for about 120,000 new jobs in September. That would be only a little better than the 96,000 added in August — and barely enough to absorb the growth in the workforce population. The unemployment rate is expected to stay at 8.1 percent.

The September jobs report will be the next-to-last one before the Nov. 6 general elections, and another ho-hum month of data is unlikely to have much sway over voters. Yet it’ll still provide a lot of political fodder for the campaign trail.

The ADP survey did show some hopeful signs. It said small employers, those with fewer than 50 workers, added half of the 162,000 jobs last month. That could mean there’s more hiring by mom-and-pop businesses and startups than what’s being picked up by government surveys. In this recovery, small firms haven’t played as strong a role in hiring as is typical after recessions.

Another encouraging indicator was construction, which by ADP’s count added 10,000 to its payrolls in September. Construction remains some 2 million jobs shy of the industry’s peak in late 2007 just before the nation fell into recession, but an emerging recovery in the housing market could start to bring back some jobs.

Separately, mortgage applications surged 16.6 percent last week, with refinancings rising by nearly 20 percent to a three-year high, according to a report Wednesday by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

The jump came as mortgage rates dropped to record lows after the Federal Reserve’s action to buy mortgage-backed securities. The report Wednesday said the contract rate for 30-year fixed mortgages fell to 3.53 percent last week, down from 3.72 percent two weeks earlier.

Like manufacturing, housing has a significant ripple effect on the economy, influencing makers of building materials, producers of furniture and kitchen appliances and even suppliers of grass seed.

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