Jobs: November employment report offers positives, negatives for US workers


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Seattle-based Amazon is looking for another city to build its second headquarters and has plans to invest $5 billion and create 50,000 jobs. Jane Lee reports.
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The labor market remained healthy in November, adding jobs at a strong clip despite a shrinking pool of available workers.

Still, there were some potentially troubling trends for employees, most notably persistently sluggish wage gains.

Here are some positives and negatives in the job market:

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More: Jobs: U.S. economy added robust 228,000 jobs in November

More: Jobs: Southern employment growth passes West as fastest in U.S.

Bright spots

Job growth. The economy added 228,000 jobs, more than the 195,000 economists expected. The total may have been partly inflated by workers who were idled by hurricanes in Texas and Florida and continued to return to job sites after the Labor Department’s October survey. Still, employers have added an average 174,000 jobs a month this year. That’s below last year’s pace of 187,000, but an impressive showing considering that low unemployment is making it tough for businesses to find qualified job candidates.

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Work week. The average work week edged up to 34.5 hours from 34.4 hours. That means businesses are working existing employees harder and may be a signal they’ll hire more permanent staffers in coming months.

Temporary workers. Employers added 18,300 temporary workers last month. That’s a healthy number and includes only contingent workers supplied by staffing firms, and so it’s probably just part of the picture. The early start to the holiday sales season may have bolstered the number. Still, many businesses add temporary employees before bringing on more permanent ones.

Trouble spots

Wages. Average hourly earnings rose five cents to $26.55 and the annual gain ticked up to 2.5% from 2.4%. Yearly growth has been stuck at about 2.5% for well over a year. Economists have expected the worker shortage is to spark faster increases. Some analysts say the Labor Department’s measure of the average paycheck may be skewed downward by retirements of higher-paid Baby Boomers and the entry into the labor force of lower paid Millennials. They point to other readings that show sharper gains for Americans continually working. Other economists, however, say feeble gains in productivity, or worker output, are holding back raises.

Household survey. Labor conducts a survey of households that determines the unemployment rate. It’s different than the survey of business and government establishments that figures into the headline number of jobs added. The household survey revealed only 57,000 new jobs in November. Yet that poll of just 60,000 households is considered more volatile and less reliable than the larger establishment survey.

Underemployment. While the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1%, a broader measure of joblessness ticked up to 8% from 7.9%. That rate includes the unemployed as well as part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs and discouraged Americans who have stopped looking. The ranks of those dissatisfied part-time workers increased by 48,000. Yet in October, the rate had fallen to 7.9% from 8.3%. And so there’s little reason to worry, unless the trend persists.

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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma slammed hiring in the U.S. last month, hitting restaurants and bars the hardest. But as Fred Katayama reports, unemployment dropped.
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