What June Jobs Report Could Mean for Interest Rates

A fresh employment report on Friday showed that unemployment ticked up in June as wage growth cooled, signs that the labor market continued to moderate after years of remarkable strength. That could keep Federal Reserve officials wary as they watch for signs that the job market is on the cusp of cracking.

Fed policymakers have two main goals: Achieving low, stable inflation and a strong labor market. They try to accomplish that by setting interest rates, either leaving them low to bolster the economy or raising them to high levels to weigh on growth.

Since early 2022, Fed officials have been using higher rates to battle rapid inflation, focusing more on wrestling price increases under control than on the employment side of their mandate. But inflation is now cooling markedly, and keeping the job market strong has once again become a big priority for central bankers.

That is why the jobs report released on Friday could be a cautionary moment.

Unemployment has been ticking steadily higher over the past year: June’s 4.1 percent reading was up from 3.6 percent a year earlier. The rate measures people who are actively looking for work but struggling to find it, so the trends suggests that it is not as easy to land a job as it was a year ago.

That’s not a huge surprise, based on other data. Job openings have come down sharply after spiking in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns. Wage growth has been moderating, a sign that employers are no longer paying so handsomely to lure new workers — average hourly earnings increased 3.9 percent from a year earlier in the June data, still solid by historical standards, but the lowest reading in years.

All of it adds up to a job market that could be on the verge of cooling more drastically.

Fed officials have been clear that a sudden and notable weakening of the labor market could spur them to cut rates. The slowdown underway probably falls short of that standard, but combined with cooling inflation, economists and investors increasingly think that the labor market moderation will pave the way for a rate cut as soon as September.

Investors, who tend to prefer lower rates, pushed up stocks slightly in early trading on Friday.

Wall Street had already been leaning toward a bet that the Fed would begin to cut interest rates in September. The numbers released on Friday firmed up those expectations, with two quarter-point cuts now fully priced in this year.

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