The U.S. economy added 312,000 jobs in December versus 176,000 expected, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the most jobs added since last February and the second-best month for job creation under the Trump Administration.
Average hourly pay increased 3.2% year-over-year, and the number of hours worked also rose. For the month, wages ticked up 0.4%.
“The economy has been slowing, but someone forgot to tell the labor markets,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer, Plante Moran Financial Advisors. “Employers, it would seem, didn’t get the memo from Mr. Market that it’s time to tighten their belts.”
Job gains were spread across a variety of industries with construction and manufacturing each posting gains of more than 30,000 jobs. Health care led all categories, adding 50,000 jobs, including 38,000 new positions in ambulatory services and another 7,000 in hospitals. Restaurants and bars added 41,000 jobs.
At the same time, the unemployment rate rose to 3.9% as more than 400,000 people joined the labor force. The labor force participation rate rose to 63.1%.
For two of the last three months, the unemployment rate had been 3.7%, its lowest level in 50 years.
“It appears that higher wages are the reason why people are returning to the active labor force in large numbers,” Paul Ashworth, chief North American economist, Capital Economics, told CNN. “Overall, the markets may have decided the Fed’s work is done, but the economic data say otherwise,” he said.
The unemployment metric that includes discouraged workers and workers holding part-time jobs for economic reasons remained flat at 7.6%.
The roughly 380,000 federal workers who were furloughed in December were not included in the report because the government shutdown started after the data was collected.
The upbeat jobs report buoyed equities markets on Friday, helping lift the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 740 points an hour before markets closed.