The Labor Department reported on Friday that the economy continued to add jobs in July and that the unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent, from 7.6 percent. But the pace of job growth slowed somewhat from the first half of the year and remains modest enough that the economy is years away from a full recovery.
Contributing to the hangover from the worst financial crisis in decades is a wave of cuts in domestic and military spending, known collectively as the sequester, which is causing government furloughs as well as job losses and curtailed hours among federal contractors.
Although the sequester became law on March 1, some of the effects, like the forced leaves, have begun to ramp up only recently. More job losses, rather than shorter workweeks, are predicted if the cuts remain in place into next year.
Congress left on Friday for a summer recess of more than a month, after a week in which Republicans’ divisions with one another and with President Obama suggested a new budget showdown may be coming in the fall. The disagreements leave no clear way to end the spending cuts that continue to slow the economy and could even lead to a more damaging government shutdown in October.
Corporate and academic economists say that Washington’s fiscal fights have produced budget policies that amount to a self-inflicted drag on the economy’s recovery.
Joseph J. Minarik, director of research at the corporate-supported Committee for Economic Development and a former government economist, said he could not remember in postwar times when fiscal policy was so at odds with the needs of the economy.
“The macroeconomic situation is highly unusual,” he said, adding: “We have to be concerned about our debt getting totally out of hand, so we are concerned about the federal budget. But the concern has got to be tempered by the fact that we have got to get some economic growth going as well.”