Economy adds 145K jobs in December, meeting expectations

The U.S. economy added 145,000 jobs in December as the unemployment rate stayed steady, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department.

The December jobs report met economists’ expectations of a gain between 145,000 to 155,000 jobs as hiring slowed slightly from November. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent, the lowest level in nearly 50 years, while the labor force participation rate also stayed even at 63.2 percent.

The economy has added an average of 186,000 each month since October after revisions released in Friday’s report. The U.S. added 152,000 jobs in October after the gain was revised down from 156,000, and added 256,000 jobs after the addition was revised down from 266,000 jobs.

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December’s solid jobs gain capped off a treacherous but ultimately solid year for the U.S. labor market, which faced pressure from trade tensions, global economic risks and the aftermath of a burst of stimulus in 2018.

A surge of hiring in retail (41,000 jobs) plus continued gains in health care (28,000) and leisure and hospitality (40,000) filled out the bulk of December’s job gains.

The unemployment rate fell from 3.9 percent in December 2018 to 3.5 percent in 2019, even as the pace of hiring slowed amid recession fears and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE’s escalating trade wars with China and the European Union.

The resilient job market is also a significant advantage for Trump as he seeks reelection on the strength of the U.S. economy. The president is counting on near-record lows in joblessness, stable growth and low inflation to woo swing voters that might be repelled by his other policies, rhetoric or conduct in office. 

Even so, the December jobs report showed areas of economic weakness that could cut against the president in November.

Wage growth was just a disappointing 2.9 percent annualized in December 2019 despite rising demand for U.S. workers. Both wage growth and inflation have remained far lower than what economists would expect in a country with record-low unemployment. 

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Several industries that Trump promised to revive have also faltered throughout 2019, posing potential risks for the president in states crucial to his reelection. Employment across the goods-producing sectors fell flat last year under pressure from rising tariffs and fading growth in Europe and Asia.

Manufacturing employment rose by just 46,000 workers in 2019 after rising by 264,000 in 2018. 

Employment in transportation and warehousing rose 57,000 last year, just one quarter of 2018’s gain of 216,000 jobs. And mining employment dropped 24,000 in 2019 after rising by 63,000 in 2018.

Updated 9:16 a.m.