Unemployment rate ticks up to 4.7% as labor force expands
Factories, health-care businesses, restaurants add workers
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The U.S. labor market turned in a solid performance at the end of 2016, putting job gains above 2 million for a sixth year as paychecks rose by the most during the current expansion.
The 156,000 increase in December payrolls followed a 204,000 rise in November that was bigger than previously estimated, a Labor Department report showed Friday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 175,000 advance. The jobless rate ticked up to 4.7 percent as the labor force grew, and wages rose 2.9 percent from December 2015.
Worker shortages may become more frequent in the coming year, which means employers could have to give out bigger wage hikes even as hiring cools. The data underscore a job market that will continue to buoy consumer spending in 2017, with Federal Reserve officials deeming the situation at or close to full employment.
“It’s a very strong job market overall,” said Scott Brown, St. Petersburg, Florida-based chief economist for Raymond James Financial Inc., who projected a 155,000 gain in payrolls. “There’s a further tightening in labor market conditions. Wage pressures are certainly building, and we should continue to see further upward pressure this year.”
The December results were helped by more hiring in health care and social assistance, whose gain of 63,300 workers was the most since October 2015. Factories added employees, along with leisure and hospitality businesses.
Revisions to prior reports added a total of 19,000 jobs to payrolls in the previous two months.
The latest payrolls tally brought the advance for 2016 to 2.16 million, after a gain of about 2.7 million in 2015. The streak of gains above 2 million is the longest since 1999, when Bill Clinton was president.
December payroll estimates of economists surveyed by Bloomberg ranged from gains of 125,000 to 221,000. November was initially reported as a 178,000 increase.
The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate Labor Department survey of households, rose 0.1 percentage point as employment increased by 63,000. The jobless rate matched the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.
Also on Friday, the Labor Department released revisions dating back to 2012 for data from the household survey, including the unemployment rate. October’s rate was revised to 4.8 percent from 4.9 percent and September’s was lowered to 4.9 percent from 5 percent.
Payroll figures from the survey of employers will be revised when the January data are released next month.
Among the details of the December report, the participation rate, which shows the share of working-age people in the labor force, increased to 62.7 percent, from 62.6 percent. It has been hovering close to the lowest level in more than three decades.
Private employment, which excludes government agencies, rose by 144,000 after a 198,000 increase the prior month. Government employment rose by 12,000.
Factory payrolls gained by 17,000, after a 7,000 decline in the previous month.
Compared with manufacturers, service providers including restaurants, business services and health-care are typically less exposed to headwinds such as the stronger dollar and the health of overseas economies.
Retailers increased payrolls by 6,300. Employment in leisure and hospitality rose by 24,000.
Wages are showing their fastest gains since the last recession ended. Average hourly earnings gained by 2.9 percent over the 12 months ended in December, the most since June 2009, following a 2.5 percent gain the prior month. Compared with November, worker pay increased 0.4 percent.
The acceleration in worker pay may have, in part, reflected the unwinding of a calendar quirk that subdued the November tally. Since the 15th of the month fell within the employment survey week, increases in bi-monthly pay are more likely to have been captured.
The average work week for all workers was unchanged at 34.3 hours.
Some measures of labor-market slack showed improvement. Americans who are working part time though would rather have a full time position, or the measure known as part-time for economic reasons, fell to 5.6 million.
The underemployment rate — which includes part-time workers who’d prefer a full-time position and people who want to work but have given up looking — dropped to 9.2 percent from 9.3 percent.
At the Fed’s December meeting, where the central bank raised interest rates, officials noted that the job market had improved appreciably over the past year and slack had declined. Most participants viewed the cumulative progress as “having brought labor market conditions to or close to those consistent with the Committee’s maximum-employment objective,” according to minutes of the session, released Wednesday.
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