Retail Makes Strides as Economy Adds 312,000 Jobs, Offering Relief to a Battered Stock Market

The labor market appeared to end the year on a high note, with employers across the country adding a whopping 312,000 jobs in December despite stock market volatility and widespread worker shortages.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the better-than-expected numbers brought overall employment in 2018 to a three-year high of 2.6 million, compared with a gain of 2.2 million in 2017. Payroll increases for October and November were also revised upward by a total of 58,000. (Wall Street analysts had forecasted an increase of 182,000 jobs in December.)

Sectors that saw the most growth included construction, manufacturing and retail, with the latter capping off a busy holiday shopping season that recorded multiple highs. The industry improved by 24,000 jobs, largely thanks to a surge in hiring for general merchandise stores at 7,000 and department stores at 8,100. However, these gains were partially offset by a 9,400 loss in sporting goods stores and no change in clothing accessories stores. Total retail trade employment increased by 92,000 in 2018 after shedding 29,000 jobs the previous year.

Separately, the unemployment rate rose to 3.9 percent since hitting a 49-year low of 3.7 percent in September, a level it had maintained through November. The labor force participation rate slightly advanced to 63.1 percent last month, with average hourly earnings climbing by 11 cents to $27.48. Over the year, those earnings increased by 84 cents, or 3.2 percent. (In November, the Labor Department reported that wages and salaries for private-sector employees made their strongest year-over-year gain since the second quarter of 2008 before the financial crisis.)

As the latest snapshot of the U.S. economy, the jobs report offered some relief to markets, which have recoiled in recent months due to fears of a global slowdown and concerns over the ongoing trade war with China. The sell-off was exacerbated on Wednesday upon the release of a report that revealed China’s vast manufacturing sector is contracting for the first time in 19 months. A revenue warning from tech giant Apple also sent benchmark indexes plummeting yesterday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffering a 660-point drop.

In morning trading, the Dow jumped upwards of 550 points, or about 2.5 percent.

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