WASHINGTON (AP) - It's a mixed picture, according to one economist. Scott Anderson of Bank of the West says today's jobs report shows "continued improvement, but at a still frustratingly slow pace."
The government says employers added 162,000 jobs in July, the smallest number since March. Still, the unemployment rate is down to its lowest level in four and a-half years -- 7.4 percent.
The Federal Reserve will look at the July employment numbers in deciding whether to slow its bond-purchasing program in September, as many economists have predicted it will do. Weaker hiring could make the Fed hold off on any pullback.
But it's also possible that the lower unemployment rate, along with the hiring gains over the past year, could convince the Fed that the job market is strengthening consistently.
Paul Ashworth of Capital economics says July was a disappointment, but that "the Fed will be looking at the cumulative improvement." He points out that unemployment is down from 8.1 percent last August to 7.4 percent.
Another economist, Beth Ann Bovino of Standard & Poor's, says she thinks today's report will make the Fed delay any slowdown in its bond purchases. She says it most likely won't happen in September now -- and perhaps not even by the end of the year.