The US economy ended 2019 on a broadly positive note, and the December jobs report is expected to fit that trend: America’s labor market remains solid and most people who want a job have a job.
Although economists predict the US economy produced fewer new jobs in December than in the prior month, the unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at a historically low 3.5%.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its latest employment report Friday at 8:30 am ET. Economists expect the report to show that 164,000 new jobs were added in December, according to a poll by Refinitiv. That would be about 100,000 fewer jobs than in the prior month, when the return of General Motors employees after a six-week long strike boosted the headline number.
Aside from the one-time distortion from the GM strike, hiring for the 2020 US Census has also skewed the number of new jobs created lately. The Census Bureau said Tuesday that it is ramping up its hiring efforts, adding up to 500,000 temporary workers for the count, which begins in April.
Even excluding these one-time events, “the underlying job creation trend has been solid if not slightly improving,” Robert Kavcic, senior economist at BMO, wrote in a note to clients.
Between January and November last year, the average monthly job growth was 180,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job growth isn’t spread evenly between sectors. America’s ailing manufacturing industry could feel more pain: data from the Institute of Supply Management last week showed that employment at US factories dropped to their lowest level in four years in December.
Slower but steady
And America’s economy is still not done with its recovery from the last decade’s Great Recession, according to Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork. The country is currently in its longest economic expansion in history.
The tight labor market is an important factor because it keeps people’s wallets stuffed with dollars. This is paramount, because consumption accounts for about two-thirds of US GDP.
Paychecks are expected to have climbed 0.3% in December, slightly more than the prior month, and were up 3.1% for the year. Wages should continue to grow over the next two years, Ozimek predicts.
The overarching story the labor market data tells “is still consistent with an economy that’s slowing but not at an alarming speed,” said James McCann, senior global economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments.
That said, retail sales moderated in the second half of 2019, which could indicate that consumer spending might be coming off its highs. This would be consistent with a mildly slowing economy, according to McCann.
On top of that, trade uncertainties continue to simmer.
“Obviously we continue to have global trade tensions — that hasn’t gone away, but it doesn’t seem to be getting worse,” Ozimek said.
The United States and China are slated to sign their “phase one” trade agreement next week in Washington, but there is plenty of uncertainty to rock headlines again this year as the two nations negotiate the “phase two” deal.