U.S. job growth surged in December and employment for the previous two months was revised sharply higher, the government reported Friday, suggesting the U.S. economy is defying global trends by growing at a solid pace.
The Labor Department said employers added a strong 292,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent for a third consecutive month. November and October payrolls were revised to show 50,000 more jobs created than previously reported. Hiring averaged 284,000 a month in the fourth quarter, the best three-month performance in a year.
Employment gains in December were concentrated in the services sector, with mining losing 8,000 jobs. Employment in the sector fell by 129,000 in 2015, and more losses are expected after oil prices fell this week to 11-year lows.
Manufacturing added 8,000 jobs last month, but the sector added only 17,000 positions in the first 11 months of 2015. Unusually warm weather supported construction hiring, which jumped by 45,000, and there also were gains in the leisure and hospitality sector. Retail payrolls rose only 4,300 as mild temperatures hurt sales of winter clothing.
The strong December figures highlight the resilience of the U.S. economy at a time of global turmoil sparked by China’s slowing economy and plunging stock market. Most economists expect solid U.S. consumer spending will offset any overseas problems, though many forecast only modest growth.
More specifically, the solid employment data should soothe fears over the U.S. economy’s health and suggests the recent weakness in activity is mostly limited to the manufacturing and export-oriented sectors, which have been hurt by a strong dollar and weak global demand. Efforts by businesses to reduce excess inventory and spending cuts by energy companies also have limited economic growth.
Following relatively weak reports on manufacturing, construction spending, and export growth, economists this week cut their fourth-quarter growth estimates by as much as a full percentage point to as low as a 0.4 percent annual rate. The economy grew at a 2 percent rate in the third quarter.