Reuters/Larry Downing
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Despite the shutdown, the US added almost twice as many jobs as expected

By Natasha Frost

US employers added 304,000 jobs last month, beating out economists’ expectations by around 160,000.

This is now the 100th consecutive month of job gains—more than eight years—and the longest stretch on record. In fact, there were gains all around, with average hourly earnings also rising 3.2% from a year ago—though it’s a small rise after months of sluggish wage growth.  Unemployment is still at its lowest point in decades.

The record 35-day partial government shutdown, which stretched into January, seems to have had less impact on the job market than it’s potential effect on confidence in the government’s ability to manage the economy. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were either sent home or expected to work without pay. Contractors found their contracts suddenly paused or dropped, while Washington, DC, businesses struggled without their ordinary flow of working customers. (Government statistics still counted these furloughed federal workers as employed.)

But in the private sector, shutdown notwithstanding, employers continued their hiring spree. Political jitters don’t seem to have had much of an impact—or not one that’s affecting personnel decisions. Speaking to the New York Times, Merrill Lynch chief US economist Michelle Meyer said the labor market remained tight. “This jobs report is showing no evidence of an economy slowing, certainly not falling into recession,” she said. “Employers are still actively looking for jobs, and with wages ticking up, it looks like workers are getting some more bargaining power.”

It wasn’t all such good news. Annual revisions to the data revealed less effusive gains for December than originally thought—some 222,000 jobs, instead of the blue-ribbon 312,000 originally reported—though in the year overall, a total of some 36,000 more jobs since the start of 2018.