Jobs Report: January Brought Retail Growth & Solid Employment Gains

The American economy is starting the year on a high note, with employers adding a solid 304,000 jobs in January — the 100th consecutive month of payroll growth despite a record 35-day government shutdown.

Those figures, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were well above expectations for an increase of 170,000 jobs and compared with an average monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018. The unemployment rate rose to 4 percent, its highest level since June, which the Labor Department attributed to the impact of the shutdown. (Temporary layoffs, including furloughed federal employees, climbed by 175,000.)

Hundreds of thousands of government workers were either left idle for most of the month or required to work without pay. While the Labor Department, which is tasked to release the jobs report, remained open, the Commerce Department — responsible for a great amount of data counted on by forecasters — was closed.

In retail trade, employment ticked higher by 21,000, with growth in sporting goods as well as miscellaneous store and non-store retailers. However, general merchandise stores — which saw a surge in hiring in last month’s report — lost more than 12,000 jobs, with department stores suffering a nearly 3,000 decline in jobs. In total, the sector has seen modest changes over the past 12 months, with a 26,000 boost.

The labor force participation rate budged slightly at 63.2 percent, with average hourly earnings improving by a marginal 3 cents to $27.56 after an adjusted 10-cent gain in December. Following revisions, job growth has averaged 241,000 per month over the last three months, with November revised up to 196,000 and December down to 222,000.

The report comes amid concerns over an end to the country’s decadelong expansion as well as fears stoked by the trade war between the U.S. and China. A global economic slowdown has also contributed to volatility on Wall Street, which is seeing positive numbers following today’s jobs report. On the first day of February, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 opened in the green.

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