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Early Warning Signs of Recession Flash Faintly in U.S. Jobs Data

As the economy again started off the year on a sour note, the glass-half-full crowd pointed to the strength of the U.S. jobs market as a reason not to worry. As long as payrolls are racking up monthly gains of 200,000 or more, the economy remains in fine fettle, or so the optimists would have it.

Take a peek below the headline jobs data, however, and there are signs that the labor market is losing some momentum. Temporary-help employment, which peaked prior to the last two recessions, is showing signs of topping out. And a broad labor-market index constructed by Federal Reserve economists — and monitored by Chair Janet Yellen — has fallen for three straight months, the first time that’s happened since 2009.

“I am a little concerned,” said 75-year-old Bob Funk, chief executive officer of Express Employment Professionals, which provides temporary workers to companies. “Our industry is always on the front end of a recession,” as provisional workers are the first to be let go on signs of economic weakness.

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