U.S. economy adds 145,000 jobs; wage growth remains weak. State economists see stable labor market.

Today’s jobs report finds the national economy added 145,000 jobs in December. 

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 145,000 in December, and the unemployment
rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported
today. Notable job gains occurred in retail trade and health care, while mining
lost jobs.

The news on wages was disappointing.

In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose
by 3 cents to $28.32. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by
2.9 percent. In December, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and
nonsupervisory employees, at $23.79, were little changed (+2 cents). 

The Wall Street Journal reports,

A decade of jobs gains is “setting the stage for more robust hiring as we enter the 2020s,” said Andrew Chamberlain, economist at job search site Glassdoor Inc., adding that cooling wage growth was disappointing.

Wage growth “remains the one aspect of the job market that hasn’t fully recovered during the decade since the Great Recession,” he said. The latest data suggest Americans are finding employment, but they aren’t necessarily landing high-paying jobs. December’s slowdown partially reflects a large jump in retail jobs at the height of the holiday-shopping season.

The WSJ adds some insight into the wage report.

The year-over-year gain is still above inflation, but modest relative to other periods with historically low unemployment. Wages for rank-and-file workers grew at a slightly faster rate, up 3% in December from a year earlier, but the pace of those gains has cooled sharply from a 3.6% annual increase in October.

Weak wage growth could in part reflect a calendar quirk. This December the 12th of the month, the date on which the wage survey is based, and the 15th, a common payday, didn’t fall in the same week—something that often leads to artificially depressed wage growth calculations. The dates fall in the same week in January and February.

While 145,000 added jobs is good news, it was below expectations and accompanied by a downward revision of previous forecasts, Calculated Risk reports.

This was below consensus expectations of 160,000 jobs added, and October and November were revised down by 14,000 combined.

The Seattle Times reports state economists remain optimistic.

“We’ve continued to see pretty consistent growth and strong momentum, particularly in the Seattle metropolitan area,” says Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the state’s Employment Security Department. “I would expect to see the growth slow as a result of the unemployment rate being as low as it is, but so far, everything has pointed to a very stable and wide-reaching labor market.”

Over the past year, Washington’s ranking in economic growth and competitiveness rose from fifth highest to fourth highest in the nation, according to a September study prepared by the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council

Hiring challenges remain a problem.

The ERFC’s November 2019 forecast predicts that the statewide unemployment rate will hold steady at 4.5% in 2020 despite slowing growth. [ERFC director and chieff economist Steve] Lerch attributes the numbers to a diminished candidate pool.

“[In 2019] both nationally and in Washington, we’ve had a lot of growth and employment, and we’ve had unemployment rates really come down, and one of the things that you start to see is that there are literally fewer people to hire,” he says.

So far, so pretty good. But we also note the heightened recession worries expressed by business leaders.