US job growth slows in December, ending 2019 on weaker-than-expected note

Economists expected U.S. employers to have added 164,000 jobs in December

U.S. hiring cooled in December, as the economy added 145,000 jobs, ending the decade on a weaker-than-expected note.

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The final payroll number of 2019 missed the estimate of 164,000 from economists surveyed by Refinitiv, who also saw the unemployment rate holding steady from November's 3.5 percent.

It marks the 111th month of straight gains.

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Unemployment remained at 3.5 percent, a half-century low, as more people were looking for work, the Labor Department said Friday. The labor force participation rate was little changed at 63.2 percent. Average hourly earnings, meanwhile, rose by 2.9 percent over the past year to $28.32 -- the weakest annual pace since July 2018.

“While below expectations, this is still a very solid number and a fitting way to close out what has been a decade of slow, but steady, economic growth,” said Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Bank.

Revisions to October and November brought the two months' combined totals down by 14,000. The blockbuster 266,000 initial estimate for November was adjusted down by 10,000 while October’s dropped by 4,000.

In this Aug. 15, 2019, photo a "Now hiring" sign is displayed on the front door of a Staples store in Manchester, N.H. On Thursday, Sept. 5, payroll processor ADP reports how many jobs private employers added in August. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (AP)

The latest figure brings the 2019 total to 2.11 million, the lowest amount since 2011 when the economy added 2.09 million jobs. In 2018, the economy added 2.63 million jobs, the most in three years.

In 2019, job growth on average was slower than it was in 2018: The monthly average between January and November last year is 180,000 jobs per month, compared with an average gain of 223,000 in 2018.

"I still think the economy is strong," President Trump's chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow told FOX Business on Friday.

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The broader picture of the labor market is consistent with economists’ expectations that the economy, in the midst of a record-long expansion, is beginning to slow, a result of the fading stimulus from President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts in 2017 and the market-rattling trade war between the U.S. and China.

Job gains stemmed largely from retail, which added 41,000, hospitality, which grew by 40,000, health care, which increased by 28,000. Manufacturing lost 12,000 jobs, and mining declined by 8,000.

It would likely take job creation below 100,000 to rattle the Federal Reserve, which has repeatedly characterized the labor market as “strong,” to budge from its wait-and-see approach to interest rates, according to Josh Wright, chief economist at iCIMS and a former Fed staffer.

“And even then, the stall would need to be sustained for about three months,” he said. “Rate hikes are still out of the question, especially with tensions in the Middle East causing oil prices to jump.”