By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A third straight month of weak hiring shows the U.S. economy is still struggling three years after the recession officially ended.
U.S. employers added just 80,000 jobs in June, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.
For the April-June quarter, the economy added an average of 75,000 jobs a month — one-third the pace in the first quarter.
And for the first six months of 2012, employers added an average of 150,000 jobs a month. That's fewer than the 161,000 average for the first half of 2011.
Slow job growth has led consumers to pull back on spending. Many analysts think the economy is growing at a sluggish annual rate of less than 2 percent.
Job creation is the fuel for economic growth. When more people have jobs, more consumers have money to spend — and consumer spending drives about 70 percent of the economy.
Here's what The Associated Press' reporters are finding:
OBAMA TREADS CAREFULLY.
Four months before voters pass judgment on his leadership of the economy, President Barack Obama attempted a rhetorical balancing act Friday.
June's slight job growth is a "step in the right direction," Obama said on a bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania,
Yet he also acknowledged that the economy must grow faster.
"It's still tough out there," the president conceded.
He said voters must help him break a stalemate in Congress that he says is preventing his administration from boosting hiring.
For Obama's Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, the jobs report could provide a point of attack in the dwindling time before Election Day.
And Romney seized on it.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, he called the unemployment rate "unacceptably high" and said Obama must take responsibility for failed policies.
— Ben Feller, AP White House Correspondent
TIME UNTIL ELECTION DWINDLING
Is it too late for Obama to win over voters unhappy with the job market he's presided over?
The election is four months away, and four more job reports will be issued before then. The final one will come four days before Election Day.
At some point — now, or closer to the election — voters' views of Obama's handling of the economy will solidify. And many analysts think four months isn't enough time for the unemployment rate to fall much below its current 8.2 percent.
"Time has run out," says Patrick Sims, director of research at the consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies.
For the unemployment rate to fall under 8 percent would require an average monthly gain of 219,000 jobs from July through October, according to calculations by Hamilton Place.
Few predict job growth that strong.
THE ANNUAL SLUMP
The June jobs report confirmed evidence of an unhappy long-term trend: Hiring is slumping for a third straight year.
In each of the past three years, hopes for a job-market recovery were lifted by robust gains early in the year. But in each case, those hopes fizzled as hiring slowed by spring or summer.
June marked a third straight month of weak hiring — an average of 75,000 jobs for the second quarter of 2012. That's far too few to lower the unemployment rate.
The 2011 job slump lasted from May through August. Over that period, the average monthly job gain was 80,000.
In 2010, the slowdown, from June through September, consisted of four straight months of job losses. The average loss was 76,000.
Over time, the economy would need to add about 150,000 jobs a month to drive down the unemployment rate.
SOURNESS ON WALL STREET
Stock investors gave a collective thumbs-down.
The market opened sharply lower after the jobs report was issued. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 124 points, nearly 1 percent. Other stock indexes also sank.
Money flowed instead into U.S. Treasurys, which investors perceive as safer than stocks when the economy is weakening.
Never mind that you get almost nothing in return for lending money to the federal government these days. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.54 percent, from 1.59 percent on Thursday.