The U.S. jobs market ended 2019 on a sour note, with December’s payroll and wage growth missing expectations, according to Labor Department figures released Friday.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by just 145,000 while the unemployment rate held steady at 3.5%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for job growth of 160,000. The jobless rate met expectations for staying at a 50-year low.
In addition to the slow payroll growth, average hourly earnings rose by just 2.9%, below the 3.1% projection. December marked the first time that wage gains were below 3% on a year-over-year basis since July 2018.
Revisions to the October and November counts brought those two months down by 4,000 as well. The glittering 266,000 initial estimate for November came down 10,000 while October’s fell from 156,000 to 142,000.
On the upside, a separate, more encompassing measure that includes discouraged and underemployed workers fell to 6.7%, the lowest it’s ever been in records going back to 1994. The decline came amid a drop of 140,000 in people working part-time for economic reasons.
The labor force participation rate held steady at 63.2% as the labor force rose by 209,000 to 164.6 million and those considered out of the labor force fell by 48,000 to 95.6 million.
The total employment level rose to 158.8 million, also a fresh high. However, the unemployment rate for African-Americans rose 0.3 percentage points to 5.9%.
For the year, payrolls increased by 2.1 million, an average of 176,000 a month, the slowest year for job creation since 2011 and down considerably from the 2.7 million positions added in 2018.
The numbers come following a year of anxiety about a potential recession on the horizon. While fears of an outright downturn have largely been eradicated, recent surveys among corporate executives show a high level of anxiety about slowing growth.
Job gains in December came primarily from retail (41,000), leisure and hospitality (40,000) and health care (28,000).
Construction rose by 20,000 and professional and business services saw an increase of 10,000, while manufacturing declined by 12,000, transportation and warehousing lost 10,000 and mining fell by 8,000.
It was a difficult year for manufacturing jobs as the sector saw a net gain of just 46,000 compared to a 264,000 gain the year before. The U.S. and China spent the year locked in a trade battle that saw billions of dollars in tariffs exchanged between the two sides.
The average work week, considered a good indicator for employers’ future intentions, held steady at 34.3 hours.
The Labor Department also released its annual revisions to its household survey data, but there were no changes to monthly unemployment rates throughout the year.
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