U.S. payrolls and wages rose by less than forecast in November while the unemployment rate held at the lowest in almost five decades, indicating some moderation in a still-healthy labor market.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 155,000 after a downwardly revised 237,000 gain in the prior month, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for an increase of 198,000. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2% from the prior month, compared with forecasts for 0.3%, though wages matched projections on an annual basis, up 3.1% for a second month.
The report adds to signs that economic growth is cooling a bit, following weakness in business-equipment orders and an ebbing of consumer optimism. While the data may spur more concern over the outlook after stocks and bond yields tumbled this week, some investors may see the prospect of a slower pace of Federal Reserve interest-rate increases as a positive following an expected hike this month.
Another key risk is the trade war between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies. While the nations agreed last weekend on a 90-day pause for new tariffs, the accumulated levies and developments have created uncertainty for companies and may weigh on the employment outlook.
The jobless rate was unchanged at 3.7% in November, matching estimates. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said late Thursday that the U.S. labor market is “very strong” by many measures and that the economy is “performing very well overall.”
Retailers showed solid demand for workers overall, hiring 18,200 people in the month before Christmas; general-merchandise stores added the most employees while clothing and electronics stores cut workers. Transportation and warehousing, a category closely linked to retail, also saw gains of 25,400 in the month.
Construction jobs rose by 5,000, the weakest since a decline in March, as gains cooled among residential specialty trade contractors. Manufacturing remained strong at an increase of 27,000.
The monthly gain in average hourly earnings for all private workers followed a downwardly revised 0.1% increase, the report showed. The annual increase topped 3% for a second month, reflecting how companies are steadily raising pay to attract and retain workers as the availability of workers tightens.
The gains probably still aren’t fast enough, though, to spur concerns of runaway inflation among Fed officials. While the unemployment rate is well below the level that central bankers consider sustainable in the long run, inflation has remained close to the central bank’s target, leading some to question whether the Fed should keep raising interest rates.