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U.S. Economy Continues Growth Ahead Of Presidential Election

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been a good summer for people looking for work. The Labor Department says U.S. employers added 255,000 jobs last month. That's a lot more than expected, and it's the second month in a row in which the economy grew by more than a quarter million workers. These monthly reports are going to start to play a role in how voters see the economy as we get closer to the November election. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Tom Maher runs a temporary employment company in Dayton, Ohio, a major center of manufacturing, warehousing and swing-state politics. Late last year, Maher's business weathered a slowdown in hiring. But so far, he says 2016 has been a story of steady growth.

TOM MAHER: We have more work available than we have people to take the jobs.

HORSLEY: With unemployment just 4.9 percent, Maher says many businesses he recruits workers for are having to pay more.

MAHER: We've been working very hard over the last 12 to 18 months to convince our clients that we do need to begin to increase hourly rates, and we're starting to see success now. The rates are going up, but I don't think they're up as high as they need to be.

HORSLEY: Nationwide, wages are on track to grow nearly 3 percent this year, well above the rate of inflation. And hundreds of thousands of new workers entered the labor force last month. In theory, that positive economic news should be good for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton since voters have less incentive to shift course in the White House. But there's a caveat.

NATHAN GONZALES: How the economy is doing is less important than how voters think the economy is doing.

HORSLEY: Nathan Gonzales who edits the Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report says just as Republicans may have overplayed the message of gloom and doom at their convention last month, Democrats have to be careful not to pop the economic champagne corks too quickly.

GONZALES: Democrats, I think, have to walk the line between promoting positive jobs numbers and economic data that's out there, but still understanding that there is a segment of the American people who don't believe that the economy is working for them.

HORSLEY: Those are the voters Donald Trump's been targeting. Trump is set to deliver an economic speech in Detroit on Monday, and today he announced the members of his economic advisory council. One of those members UC, Irvine Professor Peter Navarro says buried beneath the jobs number is a tangle of discouraging economic data, including a growing trade deficit.

PETER NAVARRO: We're strumbling (ph) along. We're probably stronger than the rest of the world at this point because we're a - such a great nation. But it's far from good enough. We're vastly underperforming, and at the end of the day the problem all gets down to bad trade deals.

HORSLEY: The Trump campaign has also been highlighting figures showing lackluster economic growth in recent months of just 1.2 percent. White House economist Jason Furman argues the underlying growth rate is stronger than that. He notes consumer spending during the three-month period was up more than 4 percent.

JASON FURMAN: And when people are nervous, they hold back their spending. That's not what we're seeing now. We're not seeing nervous consumers. We're actually seeing consumers that are optimistic, that are positive, that are out there spending money because they are making more money and believe that their future is strong.

HORSLEY: Voters have a few more months to consider how they feel about the economy, and the candidates' competing economic prescriptions before they decide how one important job gets filled. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.