US jobs report beats forecasts as 321,000 positions added in November

The US added 321,000 jobs in November, keeping the unemployment rate at 5.8% and 9 million Americans out of work.

The unemployment rate for white men rose to 5.4% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measures employment in the US. The BLS added that the rates remained unchanged for other groups, including adult women at 5.3%, teenagers at 17.7%, blacks at 11.1% and Hispanics at 6.6%

The Economic Policy Institute said the jobs additions were “surprising and encouraging” but added: “it’s important to put these numbers in context. At this rate, we won’t return to pre-recession labor market health until October 2016—nearly nine years since the recession began.”

Economists had worried that November jobs numbers would disappoint after unpredictable storms swept the country Thanksgiving week.

“The November report today is a real wild card,” wrote Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Seasonals, weather effects and a tendency to be under-reported initially all threaten the number.”

Job creation has been growing all year – but, much to the consternation of many economists, the jobs being created are heavily part-time and low-paid. These low-quality jobs and low pay ensure many Americans are not working.

In November, for instance, 73,000 of the newly created jobs were clustered in low-wage categories.

That has created a near-record low number of Americans participating in the workforce, at 62.8% – levels last seen during the 1970s. That number has not budged since April, showing a stubborn stagnation.

The highest rate of Americans participating in the labor force was in 2000, at the height of the tech boom, when 67.3% of Americans were working.

The rise of low-wage jobs has become a matter of activism. Minimum-wage protests have swept the nation, including rallies in 150 cities on Thursday against fast-food wages. The Economic Policy Institute also plans to highlight the problem of low pay by introducing a new wage-tracking tool based on the employment numbers, “to track the cumulative effect of the ongoing failure of wages to hit target levels, and how this relates to labor’s share of corporate income”.

One of the leading predictors of the employment report is jobless claims, a statistic which measures how many people apply for unemployment benefits.

This week, 297,000 people filed for jobless claims, down slightly from a relatively high 314,000 in the last week of November.

Over the past four weeks, more people have filed for jobless claims, adding up to an average of 299,000 over the past four weeks. That’s up from 294,000 on average over the previous four weeks. The jump was due to “harsher-than-usual weather,” according to Jim O’Sullivan, chief US economist at High-Frequency Economics.

Still, many economists see reasons for optimism.

Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at McGladrey, said the employment report was a “good strong number across the board. This is the point in the US economy where we’re going to generate escape velocity and generate wage gains over the next six months.”


Heidi Moore in New York

The GuardianTramp

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