Job Growth Picks Up Steam in January

January's favorable weather helped job growth accelerate to 227,000 over the month, up from a revised 157,000 jobs in December and more than the 187,000 average monthly job gain in all of 2016. January's increase in jobs was also the largest since last September. The private sector actually gained a stronger 237,000 jobs, but that was offset by a loss of 10,000 public sector jobs from state and local governments.

During January, some of the healthiest job gains came from the retail sector (up 46,000) and leisure/hospitality (up 34,000). The retail sector, however, added fewer jobs than normal during the holiday season and may therefore have laid off fewer employees in January. And thanks to the mild winter, construction jobs were able to grow by 36,000 over the month. Healthcare, professional services, and the financial sector also showed solid job growth. Manufacturing and mining jobs grew by a combined 9,000 in January, turning around after declines through much of last year.

The unemployment rate ticked up a bit to 4.8% in January from 4.7% in December. Here too, the underlying reason was a largely positive one: the labor market increased as more people chose to look for jobs. An unemployment rate below 5% also suggests that the labor market is nearing full employment.

One disappointment in the January job report, however, was the lack of wage growth. As of January, minimum wages in several states rose, creating expectations for a hike in wages over the month. Instead, average hourly earnings gained just 0.1%, softening the year-over-year increase to 2.5% from 2.8% at the end of last year.



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