USA employers added 304,000 jobs in January, soaring past expectations

John Blanding  Globe Staff  File

John Blanding Globe Staff File

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.

The construction, health care, hospitality and retail sectors added tens of thousands of workers, another sign that the robust labor market remains a fundamental source of strength with the U.S. economy expected to slow in 2019.

Private economists had expected an increase of about 170,000 jobs and the unemployment rate to be unchanged.

The government also said the unemployment rate rose to 4 percent from 3.9 percent, but mostly for a technical reason: Roughly 175,000 federal workers were counted as temporarily unemployed because of the shutdown.

The positive payroll numbers were somewhat mediated by revisions to previous months that shaved off 70,000 jobs. The one "bad" number - the rise in unemployment from 3.7 to 3.9 percent - is really good news because it reflects a rise in the labor force of 419,000 and a rise in the labor force participation rate from 62.9 to 63.1 percent. That's just below the annual gain of 3.3 percent in December, which matched October and November for the fastest increase since April 2009. Last week's applications for unemployment benefits came in at 253,000, above from the 49-year low hit earlier in the month but still low by historical standards.

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Even though the shutdown was not expected to interrupt the average 200,000 jobs per month that have been added over the last decade, some in the White House had been bracing for weaker-than-expected results.

Hundreds of thousands of government workers were either left idle for most of the month or required to work without pay. Since President Trump was elected in November 2016, the USA economy has created over 5 million jobs.

That probably didn't directly affect the headline number of hiring figures. Some 426,000 were discouraged workers, who weren't looking for work because they believed no jobs are available for them, based on the BLS survey.

All 800,000 workers are now back on the job and will receive back pay after Republican and Democratic lawmakers reached a deal to reopen the government for three weeks while they try to work out an agreement on border security. The U.S. has now added jobs for 100 straight months, the longest such period on record. But the longest shutdown in history, which ended a week ago, pushed up the unemployment rate to a seven-month high of 4.0 percent. So we may start to see hiring level off but wages continue to increase. The actual number of 304,000, 1.8 times the estimate.

Employment in leisure and hospitality rose by 74,000.

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