The ADP Employment Report for September reveals another month of mediocre job growth in this data series, but that’s better than what the crowd’s been expecting. It sets us up for somewhat brighter expectations that Friday’s employment report from the government will confirm a mild revival in the labor market compared with August’s dismal number a la Washington's bean counters.
Employment in the U.S. nonfarm private business sector rose 91,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis last month, according to ADP. That’s only slightly higher than the 89,000 gain in August, based on ADP’s accounting. The question is whether the September data will bring the Labor Department’s estimate of job growth back from a near-death experience in the last report.
The ADP update suggests there’s reason for hope, as the chart above shows. The monthly gap between the two employment series wanders, but last month’s gap was the widest in absolute terms since January. The implication is that the spread will narrow in favor of growth. With the September ADP number in hand, the odds look a bit stronger that that the government’s report on Friday will bring us a higher number than August’s 17,000 net gain for private payrolls. A bounce back is expected even without the ADP support since the government's previous estimate was reportedly skewed to the downside because of a Verizon strike—a burden that evaporated when the strikers returned to work in late August.
Economists are inclined to agree that Friday's update will show some improvement over the August numbers. The consensus outlook is that the government's employment report for September will reveal an 83,000 net gain in private payrolls, according to Briefing.com. That's still weak by historical standards, but it'd be a lot better than the 17,000 private-sector rise for August. Last week’s encouraging update for initial jobless claims offers some additional support for thinking that the next data point will at least be moving in the right direction.
Even if the optimistic forecasts for Friday prove accurate, the best you can say is that the economy appears to be resisting the gravitational forces of recession, which some analysts are predicting is inevitable. It's premature to dismiss calls of a fresh downturn, but the ADP report offers a counterpoint, mild as it is. There’s no law that says a recession can't commence with private-sector job growth rising by 90,000 a month. But if we’re in or near another recession, it would be unusual to see the labor market expanding. We’ve heard of a jobless recovery; is there such an animal as a job-growth recession too?
Hold that thought as we wait for tomorrow’s weekly update on jobless claims and Friday’s employment report.