US Economy Smashes Expectations Adding 312,000 Jobs in December

January 4, 2019 Updated: January 4, 2019

The U.S. economy beat expectations in December, adding 312,000 jobs, according to the official figures released by the Department of Labor on Jan. 4.

Wall Street analysts expected the United States to gain 180,000 jobs in December. The official numbers beat the Wall Street estimate by 43 percent. The jobs gain is the biggest in 10 months and can help allay a recent upsurge in fears about the economy’s health that has roiled financial markets.

The unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percent from 3.7 percent in November. In December last year, the unemployment rate stood at 4.1 percent. The average hourly wage rose 3.2 percent from the same time last year.

Most of the jobs gains were in health care, food service, construction, manufacturing, and retail, the Labor Department said. The health care industry added 50,000 jobs, the most of any industry. Food service and construction sectors followed with 41,000 and 38,000 jobs respectively.

The upbeat employment report from the Labor Department on Friday stood in stark contrast with reports this week showing Chinese factory activity contracting for the first time in 19 months in December and weak manufacturing across much of Europe and Asia.

Data for October and November was revised to show 58,000 more jobs added than previously reported. The economy created 2.6 million jobs last year compared to 2.2 million in 2017.

The December employment surge pushed the total U.S. employment past 150 million jobs for the first time in history.

“This is the 12th jobs report following the historic rewrite of our nation’s tax code, and the trend remains the same: strong growth for America,” Rep. Kevin Brady said in a statement. “This is what Republicans aimed for with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—this full year of major job and wage gains is worth celebrating.”

The partial government shutdown does not affect the Labor Department, which will continue publishing jobs figures. Meanwhile, reports from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis have been suspended pending a resolution to an impasse between the Democrats and Republicans over border wall funding.

The shutdown, if it continues, could affect payrolls in January. Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters on Jan. 3 that federal government worker furloughs could translate to “a big negative” in the January jobs numbers. But the workers will ultimately be paid, he added.

The strong employment report likely keeps the Federal Reserve on course to continue raising interest rates this year, deepening its rift with President Donald Trump, who has chastised the Fed and its chairman, Jerome Powell, repeatedly for the rate increases. Powell is due to appear on a panel with his two predecessors about two hours after the report’s release.

The central bank is on a rate hike spree since late 2016. In the eight years before Trump, the Fed kept the rate at a historic low. The president doesn’t agree with the current course and has referred to the Fed as a “bigger problem than China.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov
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