Providing a surprising and much-needed bit of momentum to a shaky global economy, government figures released Friday show the U.S. economy is on track this year to create the most jobs since 1999.
And in a bright spot for American workers who've felt left behind by the slow recovery, average earnings may be seeing the first signs of a more substantial pick-up.
The government said Friday that employers last month added a robust 321,000 jobs across a broad spectrum of low- and high-paying industries. That was nearly 100,000 more jobs than Wall Street had expected.
The nation's unemployment rate held steady at 5.8% as more people entered or returned to the job market.
Best of all for U.S. workers, average hourly wages rose by 9 cents from October, the biggest month-to-month gain in 18 months.
The new jobs and earnings figures, plus the recent plunge in gasoline prices, are just what economists wanted to see before for the critical holiday shopping season.
“We waited a long time for this bounce back,” said Harry Holzer, a Georgetown University professor and former chief economist at the Labor Department. “It’s been a full seven years since the Great Recession….and now we’re in a place fundamentally where we are stronger.”
President Obama praised the report, noting that the U.S. economy continues to outpace the rest of the world.
“Over the last four years we’ve put more people back to work than Europe, Japan and all other industrialized advanced countries combined,” Obama said.
Stocks rose on the news, though it raises the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will start to raise its benchmark interest rate earlier than June, as many are expecting. That would mean higher costs for mortgages.
Though the labor-participation rate and the number of long-term unemployed were little changed, the Labor Department report overall indicated that the jobs market picked up momentum despite concerns that weaker global performance could hammer the U.S. economy. The net job gain last month was the biggest in nearly three years.
Moreover, payroll employment numbers for September and October were revised higher by a total of 44,000. With that, job growth has averaged 278,000 a month in the last three months.
The hiring in November far exceeded expectations for job growth of about 225,000. There were strong gains at retailers ahead of the holiday season, but also a burst of new hires in the better-paying business services category that includes computer programmers and engineers. Manufacturing, construction, healthcare and even financial services all added a solid batch of jobs last month.
As yet, however, the pay of the typical worker has not budged on a year-to-year basis.
In November, the average hourly earnings for all private-sector employees saw a solid increase of 9 cents from October, to $24.66. Still, that was 2.1% higher than a year ago, just a notch above the rate of inflation and within the narrow 2%-2.1% band in which it has stayed all year long.
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