WASHINGTON Friday's employment report provided an odd mix of unpleasant surprises that add another question mark to the pace of economic recovery.
Companies cut back on temporary hires, a segment normally considered a harbinger of future hiring. Government jobs dried up much faster than anticipated and not just because it saw the end of short-term census jobs.
The jobless rate held steady at 9.5 percent, defying expectations for a slight increase, but that was only because thousands more people dropped out of the labor force.
* Temporary jobs dropped by 5,600, reversing a streak of strong gains that economists had viewed as a hopeful sign that hiring would pick up.
* Normally, companies load up on temps at the beginning of a recovery when they are waiting for confirmation that growth is gaining momentum. This recovery has been unusual in that temporary hiring did not herald a jump in private hiring.
* Private hiring totaled a lackluster 71,000 in July, below expectations for 90,000 in a Reuters poll. June's tally was revised down to just 31,000 from an initially reported 83,000.
* Government hiring was another worrisome sign. The loss of 202,000 positions reflected the loss of 143,000 temporary Census jobs.
* The total also included 38,000 jobs lost in local government. For most municipalities, the fiscal year began on July 1, and government associations have been warning that huge budget gaps would force aggressive job and spending cuts. July's report suggests local governments got a quick start.
* There were a few positive signs buried among the bad news. The average work week edged up to 34.2 hours from 34.1, suggesting companies were squeezing more out of existing workers and may soon need more. Earnings also rose slightly, adding to consumers' spending power.
(Editing by James Dalgleish)