U.S. job growth accelerated sharply in January while the unemployment rate hit more than a 53-1/2-year low of 3.4%, pointing to a stubbornly tight labor market, and a potential headache for Federal Reserve officials as they fight inflation.
The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday also showed job creation in the past year was much stronger than previously estimated, suggesting the economy was nowhere near a recession. Though wage inflation cooled further in January, average hourly earnings increased faster in 2022 than previously estimated.
The strength in hiring, which occurred despite layoffs in the technology sector as well as in sectors like housing and finance that are sensitive to interest rates, poured cold water on market expectations that the U.S. central bank was close to pausing its monetary policy tightening cycle.
Economists said the head-scratching report and other data on Friday showing a sharp rebound in services industry activity last month suggested the Fed could lift its target interest rate above the recently projected 5.1% peak and keep it there for some time.
“The labor market is still running hot, too hot for the Fed’s liking,” said Daniel Vernazza, chief international economist at UniCredit Bank in London. “Anyone that thought the Fed might stop hiking as soon as its March meeting is likely to be disappointed on this evidence.”
The survey of establishments showed nonfarm payrolls surged by 517,000 jobs last month, the most in six months. Economists in a Reuters poll had expected a gain of 185,000. Data for December was revised higher to show 260,000 jobs added instead of the previously reported 223,000. Employment growth last month was well above the monthly average of 401,000 in 2022.
With January’s report, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published its annual payrolls “benchmark” revision and updated the formulas it uses to smooth the data for regular seasonal fluctuations in the establishment survey.
The economy added 568,000 more jobs in the 12 months through March 2022 than previously reported. Revisions to payrolls data from April through December also showed more jobs created than previously estimated. The economy added 4.8 million jobs in 2022 instead of the 4.5 million previously reported.
Courtesty Reuters. By Lucia Mutikani