Economy adds robust 312K jobs in December, well above expectations

The U.S. economy added a robust 312,000 jobs in December, well above expectations, as the labor market continues to expand even as worries grow about an economic slowdown and turbulent stock markets.  

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9 percent from 3.7 percent as the labor force expanded by 419,000, the Labor Department reported on Friday. 

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Economists had expected about 182,000 jobs to be added last month. 

The labor force participation rate rose to 63.1 percent in December, the highest it has been since early 2014, from 62.9 percent in November.

Jobs growth should ease some fears about a broader economic slowdown.

"Recession fears in the United States are overblown," said PNC chief economist Gus Faucher. 

"Job growth is set to slow in 2019 as the tight labor market constrains hiring, but should remain strong enough to push the unemployment rate lower and wages higher," Gaucher said. 

David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide, said he expects the economy to fall into recession as soon as next year, "but the December employment report indicates that this isn’t going to happen anytime soon." 

Employment gains in October and November combined were 58,000 more than previously reported.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets 10 questions for Robert Mueller Ocasio-Cortez tears into Trump's immigration agenda: 'It's about ethnicity and racism' MORE (D-Calif.) issued a statement calling the gains positive news, but warned that the ongoing partial government shutdown could cause jobs to "slip away."

“The December jobs statement contains some positive news, yet these gains threaten to slip away because of the Trump Shutdown," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement.  

"A staggering 800,000 hard-working Americans are at risk of losing their paychecks, because the president insists on senselessly holding the American people hostage to his unpopular, ineffective, immoral and expensive border wall," she said. 

The solid jobs news should keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates a couple more times this year. 

"We project a slower pace of Fed tightening in 2019 than in 2018, but with unemployment below most estimates of full employment and probably falling further this year along with upward risks to core inflation, modestly higher interest rates are likely for this year," Berson said. 

Job gains averaged 220,000 this year up from 182,000 in 2017.

With the strong December numbers, 2018 was the best year for jobs growth since 2015 — topping 2.6 million up from 2.2 million in 2017.

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The economy has added jobs for 99 straight months, beginning in October 2010 under former President Obama. It is the longest streak of monthly jobs growth on record. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE's strategy to hit China with billions of tariffs to coax them to change their bad trade behavior has been rattling markets even as the president says the world' two largest economies try to hash out an agreement. 

Trump told reporters Wednesday that there was a "glitch" in the stock market in December but he expects a recovery as his administration completes trade deals with China and other allies. 

"It's going to go up once we settle trade issues and a couple of other things happen," Trump said. "It's got a long way to go."

The Dow Jones industrial average plunged on Thursday as Apple slashed its earnings forecast. 

The S&P 500 posted its worst performance since 1931, falling more than 9 percent. 

The Dow average fell 5.6 percent while the Nasdaq composite plunged 12.2 percent.

The broader stock index had its worst annual showing since 2008 — when it plunged more than 38 percent during the financial crisis. 

Another bright spot in the report was that wages rose 3.2 percent over the year, the fastest pace since 2009. 

"Wage growth continues to strengthen, which supports the Fed’s decision to raise rates last month, but will trouble investors as they consider the potential for more rate hikes in 2019,” said Curt Long, chief economist, National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions

Job gains occurred in health care, restaurants and bars, construction, manufacturing and retail.

Employment in health care rose 50,000 in December while retailers added 24,000 jobs. 

Construction employment increased 38,000 in December, while manufacturing added 32,000, with total growth of 284,000 over the year. 

Updated at 11:08 a.m.