Payroll growth decelerated in December but was still better than expected, a sign that the labor market remains strong even as the Federal Reserve tries to slow economic growth.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 223,000 for the month, above the Dow Jones estimate for 200,000, while the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, 0.2 percentage point below the expectation. The job growth marked a small decrease from the 256,000 gain in November, which was revised down 7,000 from the initial estimate.
Wage growth was less than expected in an indication that inflation pressures could be weakening. Average hourly earnings rose 0.3% for the month and increased 4.6% from a year ago. The respective estimates were for growth of 0.4% and 5%.
By sector, leisure and hospitality led with 67,000 added jobs, followed by health care (55,000), construction (28,000) and social assistance (20,000).
Stock market futures rose following the release as investors look for signs that the jobs market is cooling and taking inflation lower as well.
The relative strength in job growth comes despite repeated efforts by the Fed to slow the economy, the labor market in particular. The central bank raised its benchmark interest rate seven times in 2022 for a total of 4.25 percentage points, with more increases likely on the way.
Primarily, the Fed is looking to bridge a gap between demand and supply. As of November, there were about 1.7 job openings for every available worker, an imbalance that has held steady despite the Fed’s rate hikes. The strong demand has pushed wages higher, though they mostly haven’t kept up with inflation.
The drop in the unemployment rate came as the labor force participation rate edged higher to 62.3%, still a full percentage point below where it was in February 2020, the month before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
A more encompassing measure of unemployment that takes into account discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons also declined, falling to 6.5%, its lowest-ever reading in a data set that goes back to 1994. The headline unemployment rate is tied for the lowest since 1969.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.