People are apparently feeling so good about the current economy that Americans quit their jobs in May at the fastest rate since 2001.
U.S. employers added a disappointing 155,000 jobs in November as hiring slowed amid worker shortages, the country’s trade fight with China and wild stock market swings.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at a near half-century low of 3.7 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated that 199,000 jobs were added last month. Also, employment additions for September and October were revised down by a modest 12,000.
The volatile stock market, which rose at the open of trading, resumed its pattern of sharp declines this week, with the Dow Jones industrial average ending down 559 points, or 2.2 percent, on Friday.
Many analysts expected hiring to slow in November after robust job gains of well over 200,000 the prior month. That total was likely inflated by a rebound in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence idled workers and curtailed payrolls in September.
Other crosscurrents were also at work last month. Winter storms in the Northeast and Midwest likely reduced employment by about 20,000, Goldman Sachs estimated. Meanwhile, Capital Economics expected a modest bounce-back in job growth in the Florida panhandle after Hurricane Michael tempered October advances but the research firm reckoned the bump would be offset by the effects of the California wildfires.
More broadly, monthly job increases have been surprisingly strong this year, averaging more than 200,000, despite a historically low unemployment rate that’s leading to widespread worker shortages.
Some economists expect the brisk pace to slow. The 10 percent tariff the Trump administration slapped on $250 billion in Chinese imports has dinged business confidence and the recent truce between the two nations came after Labor’s November jobs survey.
Business optimism also may have been dampened by the stock market’s mid-November sell-off and the sputtering global economy. Initial jobless claims, which reflect layoffs, have drifted higher in recent months.
Average hourly earnings rose 6 cents to $27.35, leaving the annual gain unchanged at a nine-year high of 3.1 percent.
Employers are likely to continue to bump up wages as they increasingly struggle to find qualified workers. That could lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster to head off a run-up in inflation. The Fed is expected to raise its key short-term interest rate later this month for the fourth time this year.
Industries that are hiring
Health care led the job gains with 40,000. Professional and business services added 32,000; transportation and warehousing, 25,000; retailers, 18,000, as they geared up for the holiday season; and leisure and hospitality, 15,000.
Manufacturers added 27,000 jobs despite the trade standoff with China. And construction added 5,000. Mining and logging trimmed 3,000 jobs as oil prices continue to tumble.
Wider unemployment measure rises
A broader measure of unemployment — that includes discouraged workers who have given up their job searches and part-time employees who prefer full-time positions – rose to 7.6 percent from 7.4 percent, which was a 17-year low. The number of these so-called involuntary part-time workers increased by 181,000 to 4.8 million.
This gauge of underemployment generally has been falling as the improving labor market draws in many Americans on the sidelines. The increase last month could indicate that positive trend may be petering out. Yet it also could simply reflect normal volatility in the figures from month to month.
Unemployment for blacks, less educated tumbles
The unemployment rate for African Americans fell from 6.2 percent to 5.9 percent, matching the record low set in May.
Meanwhile, the jobless rate declined from 4 percent to 3.5 percent for high school graduates who didn’t attend college and from 6 percent to 5.6 percent for Americans with less than a high school diploma. The rate actually rose for college graduates, from 2 percent to 2.2 percent.
As employers struggle to find workers, they’re providing more opportunities to blacks, those with less education and other disadvantaged Americans who traditionally have had a tougher time finding jobs and are available in greater numbers.
What it means
Wall Street initially seemed to like the tepid jobs total, figuring it could make the Fed more likely to hold interest rates steady at a meeting later this month or slow the pace of hikes next year. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 100 points in early morning trading.
But those stock gains turned into sharp losses for the day as investors realized that was unlikely, especially with annual pay increases now topping 3 percent. Plus, the unemployment rate maintained its 49-year low, likely heralding sharper wage growth in the months ahead.
“We see a December rate hike as largely a done deal,” says economist Leslie Preston of TD Economics.
Preston says the fewer-than-expected job gains could simply mean employers are having a tougher time finding workers — a positive for Americans’ paychecks.
Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics says it signals an anticipated slowdown in an economy and labor market that have been juiced by federal tax cuts and spending increases in recent months.
“This is still a solid gain that suggests economic growth is gradually slowing back toward its” natural pace, he says.
Alternatively, the lackluster jobs total could be a weather-related blip. Barclays economist Michael Gapen noted that cold and snowy weather crimped job gains in construction and leisure and hospitality.
“The overall jobs picture remains strong,” says Wells Fargo economist Sarah House.
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