USA job growth surges; unemployment rate rises to 4.0 percent

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US employers shrugged off last month's partial shutdown of the government and engaged in a burst of hiring in January, adding 304,000 jobs, the most in almost a year.

Average hourly earnings rose in January by just 3 cents, but they are still up 85 cents, or 3.2 percent, over the past 12 months. If they were, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate for the month of January would have been higher. Those who continued to work through the shutdown without pay were marked "employed" in both surveys. That lowered the annual increase in wages to 3.2 percent from 3.3 percent in December, giving the employment report a Goldilocks feel.

The goods producing industry added 72,000 net new jobs, the most since February 2018, fueled by a 52,000 increase in construction employment. Almost all of this increase occurred in the private sector and may reflect the impact of the partial federal government shutdown.

The U.S. economy gained jobs for the 100th straight month, adding 304,000 jobs in January.

"The respectable employment data provides something of a relief, for now at least, for members of the Federal Reserve who have been bracing for the possibility of a more serious slowdown in the USA economy", said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.

Different job sectors contributed to United States job growth.

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The U-6 metric, a figure used to measure unemployment that takes into account discouraged workers and those holding part-time positions for economic reasons did rise to 8.1 percent from 7.6 percent, on track with January 2018.

In January, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 1.3 million and accounted for 19.3 percent of the unemployed. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing by only 165,000 jobs in January.

Wage growth held steady in January. Following revisions, job gains have averaged 241,000 per month since November. Average hourly earnings, meanwhile, rose by 3 cents to $27.56.

"If the federal workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work had been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff, the overall unemployment rate would have been slightly higher than reported", the Labor Department wrote in a note at the bottom of the January jobs report. As a result, these workers were included in the survey of employers from which the payrolls number is calculated.

USA economic growth is slowing from its rapid 2018 pace, but the continued robust gains in employment may cause pause to commentators that have been calling for recession.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Yuki Noguchi for us this morning with those new jobs numbers. The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not reflect those of Berenberg Capital Markets, LLC.

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