WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers added 145,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.5%, signaling that the job market remains strong at the start of 2020 even if hiring and wage gains have slowed somewhat more than a decade into an economic expansion.
Friday's snapshot from the Labor Department showed that hiring slipped from robust gains of 256,000 in November, which were given a boost by the end of a strike at General Motors. For the year, employers added an average of roughly 175,000 jobs per month, compared with about 223,250 per month in 2018.
Annual wage growth fell in December to 2.9%, down from an annualized average of 3.3% a year earlier, a possible sign that some slack remains in the labor market and that unemployment could fall even further from its current half-century low.
For just the second time in history, women outnumbered men as the majority of the U.S. paid workforce, buoyed by fast job growth in health care and education over the past year, as well as the ongoing tight-labor market.
Women worked 50.04% of payroll jobs in December, up from 49.99% the previous month. But the figure reflects a larger, ongoing trend. Of the 145,000 jobs picked up in December throughout the economy, women won most of them -- 139,000, according to Labor Department data.
The picture of a slowly-but-steadily improving economy -- plus low inflation -- likely gives the Federal Reserve comfort in keeping interest rates low, which has been a boon to stock markets. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.46% in Friday trading to close at 28,823.77, but it briefly climbed to a record level of 29,000 in the morning.
"We're starting 2020 in very good shape," said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. "We should see continued economic expansion throughout 2020 driven by consumers."
The state of the job market has become a pivotal division between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challengers. Trump can campaign on the low unemployment rate and job growth as he seeks a second term. Democrats, seeking to oust him, can point to wages that have not taken off in a meaningful way for many Americans coping with high costs for medical care and higher education.
This is the last jobs report before the Iowa caucus in February that will serve as a first step for choosing the Democratic presidential nominee.
The prospect of a stable job market, an uptick in global growth, supportive central banks, an easing of trade tensions and U.S. economic growth of around 2% should be a positive for this year.
"We really have the wind at our backs going into 2020," said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the employment marketplace ZipRecruiter.
Yet job growth has failed so far to translate into substantially better hourly pay.
But the labor squeeze has helped workers at the lowest end of the pay scale, giving their wages a push that exceeds the average increase. Minimum-wage increases across 21 states and 26 cities and counties this year could further help pull up paychecks at the bottom.
By contrast, wage growth for managers slowed in December.
Irina Novoselsky, chief executive officer of the jobs site CareerBuilder, said more employers are offering non-wage benefits such as the chance to work remotely to potential workers and becoming less focused on educational credentials when hiring.
"The major fact that is pushing the trend is the labor shortage in America," she said. "Companies are being forced to provide that flexibility."
The U.S. economy added 2.1 million jobs last year, down from gains of nearly 2.7 million in 2018. Hiring may have slowed because the number of unemployed people seeking work has fallen by 540,000 people over the past year to 5.75 million. With fewer unemployed people hunting for jobs, there is a potential limit on job gains.
The steady hiring growth during the expansion has contributed to gains in consumer spending. Retail sales during the crucial Christmas shopping period improved 3.4% compared with 2018, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse. This likely contributed to a surge of hiring in retail as that sector added 41,200 jobs in December.
The leisure and hospitality sector -- which includes restaurants and hotels -- added another 40,000 jobs. Health care and social assistance accounted for 33,900 new jobs.
Still, the report suggests a lingering weakness in manufacturing.
Factories shed 12,000 jobs in December, after the end of the GM strike produced gains of 58,000 jobs in November. Manufacturing companies added just 46,000 jobs in all of 2019.
Manufacturing struggled last year because of trade tensions between the United States and China coupled with slower global economic growth.
Safety problems at Boeing have also hurt orders for aircraft and parts, and that could restrict hiring at factories in 2020. While the jobs report painted a healthy picture of the economy, the manufacturing sector took a blow Friday as the Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems announced layoffs for 2,800 workers in Kansas.
Information for this article was contributed by Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post and by Patricia Cohen of The New York Times.
Business on 01/11/2020
Print Headline: 145,000 jobs added in December