2019 ends with solid job gains, tepid wage growth

THE NUMBER OF JOBLESS declined slightly in December, ending the year at 5.753 million, but wages only increased 2.9 percent.

The U.S. finished 2019 with a 3.5 percent unemployment rate in December – unchanged from November, and down 0.4 percent from December 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports.

Businesses created a net of 2.1 million new jobs in 2019, down from 2.9 million, in 2018.

The BLS said December payroll employment growth was 145,000, while year-over-year nominal wage growth was only 2.9 percent — the lowest it’s been in 18 months. The 3.5 percent unemployment rate held steady from November.

The number of jobless also declined slightly in December, down 58,000, to end the year at 5.753 million, down from 6.286 million jobless at the end of 2018.

“Average monthly job creation has held remarkably steady for the past nine years, but it did soften in the last year, from 223,000 in 2018 to 176,000 in 2019,” said Elise Gould, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “The one-time boost of the fiscal stimulus from 2018 has worn off and may have contributed to the slightly weaker job growth in 2019.”

The unemployment rate continued to fall between 2018 and 2019 (from 3.9 percent to 3.5 percent) as labor force participation has increased with people re-entering the labor market and find jobs. |

Logic suggests wages should be increasing as companies compete for workers, but wage growth continues to be the lagging indicator –– not as strong as would be expected given the health of the labor market –– and actually slowed through much of 2019.

“After hitting a recent high point of 3.4 percent year-over-year wage growth, the growth rate has measurably decelerated and wage growth closed out the year at only 2.9 percent in December,” Gould said. “As would-be workers become scarcer, we would expect employers to have to work harder to attract and retain the workers they want.”

As such, Gould says, wage growth will be the most important indicator to watch in 2020.

“Overall, the number of jobs still being created with the unemployment rate at near-historic lows along with slower than expected wage growth undermines the conventional wisdom that the economy has reached or passed full employment.”

While the overall jobs numbers look positive, the news wasn’t so good in December for African-American workers, especially men. African-American joblessness rose by 0.3 percent in one month, to 5.9 percent, BLS said, with some 92,000 more African-American men left jobless.

The jobs report also was mixed for older workers.

The number of unemployed in the 50-54 age group rose 20 percent from 343,000 in November to 411,000 in December. The unemployment rate for the 50-54 group rose from 2.1 percent to 2.5 percent.

On the other hand, the number of unemployed over age 55 declined in December from 998,000 to 991,000 – a drop of nine percent. The unemployment rate for those 55 and older declined from 2.6 in November to 2.4 percent in December.

For the year, the number of unemployed over age 50 dropped from 1.75 million to 1.47 million – a decline of 277,000.

Specialty trade contractors accounted for two-thirds of the job gains in December and three-fourths of construction job gains in the year.

The biggest change among worker groups was the jobless rate for government workers: 1.8 percent (393,000 jobless worker) in December, down from 2.5 percent (526,000 jobless workers) last December, when President Donald Trump locked out 400,000 federal workers in an attempt to force Congress to accede to his demand for $5 billion for his Mexican border wall.

Factories lost 12,000 jobs during the month, a separate survey showed, down to 12.855 million. Some 2.7 percent of factory workers (422,000) were jobless at the end of 2019, compared to 2.8 percent (441,000) the prior December.

Primary metal product factories lost 2,300 jobs, down to 370,600 in December and down 11,400 for the year. Car and parts plants lost 800 jobs in the month, and 18,200 for the year, down to 986,900.

Construction showed the same pattern: A five percent jobless rate and 489,000 unemployed workers at the end of 2019, compared to a 5.1 percent rate and 493,000 jobless the previous December. There were 7.551 million construction workers toiling in December, up 20,000 in one month and up from 7.4 million in December 2018.

(Information from the EPI, PAI Union News Service and www.nifty50s.com.)


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