U.S. employers added only 80,000 jobs in June, a third straight month of weak hiring that shows the economy is still struggling three years after the recession ended.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.
The economy added an average of just 75,000 jobs a month in the April-June quarter — one-third of 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.
Weaker job creation has caused consumers to pull back on spending.
Europe's debt crisis is also weighing on U.S. exports. And the scheduled expiration of tax cuts at year's end has increased uncertainty for U.S. companies, making many hesitant to hire.
Job creation is the fuel for the nation's economic growth. When more people have jobs, more consumers have money to spend — and consumer spending drives about 70 of the economy.
Here's what The Associated Press' reporters are finding:
THE LOST JOBS
Five million jobs.
That's how many the economy has still failed to recover since the Great Recession officially ended three years ago.
The nation lost nearly 8.8 million jobs between January 2008 and February 2010. Since then, it's regained more than 3.8 million — less than 44 percent.
The economy has added just 137,000 jobs a month since employment hit bottom. At that pace, it would take three more years for employment to return to where it was in January 2008.
'WORLDLY AND BROKE'
When Deborah Masse, 49, lost a job in 2007, she had three interviews and a job offer within six weeks.
This time has been different. After being laid off in October 2011, she's sent out thousands of resumes and had several phone interviews.
No job offers.
But Masse, who lives in Stanton, Mich., with her husband and mother, has been encouraged by the auto industry's rebound. She's seeing auto companies advertise jobs in human resources, her field. She plans to move next week to be closer to Detroit.
While unemployed, Masse says she's exercised more, learned some French and Spanish, and brushed up on her technological skills.
"If nothing else, I will end up on Social Security more fit, more intelligent and worldly and broke," she says.
SOURNESS ON WALL STREET
The reaction of stock investors? A collective thumbs-down.
The market opened sharply lower after the jobs report was issued. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 146 points — about 1 percent — in the first hour of trading. 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 1.55 percent, from 1.59 percent on Thursday.
SHRINKING GOVERNMENT JOBS
As an employer, the government isn't helping.
The number of jobs at all levels of government fell 4,000 in June. Only local governments added jobs — and it was a scant 4,000. State governments cut 1,000 jobs. They shed 13,000 in the April-June quarter.
"In the first quarter it looked like state and local government job losses were coming to an end," says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. "That turned out to be a temporary halt... Apparently, there's no end in sight."
The federal government cut 7,000 jobs in June. It hasn't added jobs since March 2011.
CUSHIONING THE PAIN
There's an upside to a weak economy and job market: Energy prices tend to drop, offering relief to businesses and consumers.
Lower oil prices mean cheaper diesel and jet fuel for shippers and airlines. Falling gasoline prices give drivers more money to spend on things like cars, appliances and vacations that fuel economic growth.
Oil has fallen 21 percent from its peak in late February — to $87.22 barrel. And gasoline now costs $3.34 a gallon, down 15 percent from early April.
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