Job growth exceeds expectations in January

2/4/2019

Job growth in January shattered expectations, with nonfarm payrolls surging by 304,000 despite a partial government shutdown that was the longest in history, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The unemployment rate ticked higher to 4 percent, a level where it had last been in June, a likely effect of the shutdown, according to the department. However, officials said federal workers generally were counted as employed during the period because they received pay during the survey week of Jan. 12. On balance, federal government employment actually rose by 1,000.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected payrolls to rise by 170,000 and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.9 percent.

In all, it was a powerful performance at a time when economists increasingly have said they expect growth to slow in 2019. January marked 100 months in a row of positive job creation, by far the longest streak on record.

Stock futures and Treasury yields jumped in response to the better-than-expected report.

The news was not all good, though, as data revisions pushed previous numbers lower.

December's big initially reported gain of 312,000 was knocked all the way down to 222,000, while November's rose from 176,000 to 196,000. On net, that took the two months down by 70,000, bringing the three-month average to 241,000. That's still well above the trend that would be common this far into an economic expansion dating back 9½ years.

For the full year of 2018, the average monthly gain was 223,000.

"Certainly, the economy has slowed, and that will undoubtedly be apparent in other data in the coming weeks. Still, the jobs market remains a bright spot," Jim Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors, said in a note. "Employers are still hiring at a strong pace. That's good news for the consumer sector, and ultimately good news for the economy."

A separate measure of unemployment that takes into account discouraged workers and those holding part-time positions for economic reasons jumped to 8.1 percent from 7.6 percent, with the January reading being around where it was in January 2018.

Among individual groups, the unemployment rate for Hispanics jumped to 4.9 percent from 4.4 percent in December. The rate for African-Americans rose to 6.8 percent from 6.6 percent while Asians saw a decline to 3.1 percent from 3.3 percent. The rate for whites was 3.5 percent, a notch higher than December's 3.4 percent.

Muted wage growth

The job creation saw muted wage growth, with average hourly earnings rising just 3 cents on the month, or 0.1 percent, well below the 0.3 percent expected gain. On a year-over-year basis, though, that still amounted to a 3.2 percent increase, consistent with the past few months and around the highest levels of the recovery.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics official estimated that the shutdown had "no discernable impacts" on the ability to make estimates, though there was some effect on the numbers otherwise.

The most notable came in the count of those working part-time for economic reasons, often referred to as the underemployed. That total jumped nearly 11 percent to 5.1 million.

The household survey's level of unemployed increased by 241,000, or nearly 4 percent, to 6.5 million, helping to push the unemployment rate higher. The survey's level of those counted as employed tumbled by 251,000 to 156.7 million. The department uses its establishment survey, which contacts businesses, to formulate the headline monthly job gains.

Multiple sectors helped contribute to the spike in job creation. Services rose by 224,000 and goods-producing industries increased by 72,000.

Leisure and hospitality added 74,000 positions, with the biggest gain coming in bars and restaurants, which rose by 37,000. Construction saw a gain of 52,000, bringing its 12-month total to 338,000.

Elsewhere, health care contributed 42,000, bringing its yearly gain to 368,000. Transportation and warehousing added 27,000 and retail grew by 21,000 following a year where the sector showed a total gain of just 26,000.

Professional and business services were up 30,000 and manufacturing increased by 13,000, bringing that sector's 12-month total to 261,000.

The average work week remained at 34.5 hours. The labor force participation rate held steady at 63.1 percent while those counted as not in the labor force fell by 639,000 to just over 95 million.

The department also released its full-year revisions, which it does each January. In total, the changes added 36,000 to the count for all of 2018. Revisions to the labor force count saw the civilian noninstitutional population fall by 800,000 and the civilian labor force decrease by 506,000.

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