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The report, released by the Labor Department on Friday morning, showed the U.S. economy, in the midst of the longest expansion on record, is continuing a trend of slow-but-steady growth. The economy added 145,000 jobs, while the jobless rate held steady at 3.5 percent, the lowest rate since 1969.
"Even after slight downward adjustments to prior months, the economy gained more than 550,000 jobs during the fourth quarter," said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide. "This suggests that while job gains are easing a bit, as would be expected for an economic expansion in its 11th year, demand from employers for labor remains strong."
Retail led all industries last month with 41,000 new positions added. It was trailed just slightly by the leisure and hospitality sector, which accounted for 40,000 of the workers added into the labor force in December.
"Instead of seeing a repeat of the 2017 retail apocalypse, we are now seeing signs of stabilization in that industry," said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter. "Many brick-and-mortar retailers have made significant investments in improving the shopping experience at their stores, and those investments seem to be paying off."
Health care also continued to serve as a powerhouse in the labor market, with an increase of 28,100 jobs. A slew of those additions took place in the ambulatory health care services, with 23,100 positions. Physicians accounted for 5,400 employees.
Still, some sectors also experienced notable job losses. Mining and logging posted a 9,000 worker decline, and transportation and warehousing positions dropped by 10,400. Manufacturing lost 12,000 workers. That sector added just 46,000 workers in 2019, a big drop from the 264,000 positions it created in 2018, according to the Labor Department.
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.
Last year, job growth on average was slower than it was in 2018: The monthly average in 2019 was just below 180,000 jobs per month, compared with an average gain of 223,000 in 2018.