5 Things to Watch in the December Jobs Report

The Labor Department releases its final employment report for 2017 on Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect employers added 180,000 jobs in December and see the unemployment rate holding steady at 4.1%. Here’s what else we’re watching. 1. Steady improvement Economists expect job creation in December was just a shade better than the 174,000 jobs added, on average, each month through November last year. The economy added more than 200,000 jobs seven times in the first 11 months of 2017. And it added less than 100,000 jobs just twice, in March when a snowstorm hit the East Coast and in September after hurricanes struck the South. The economy hasn’t lost jobs in any month since 2010. 2. Annual report U.S. employers are on pace to add about two million jobs during 2017.  Last year is likely to be the lowest year for job creation since at 2012, but could also be the seventh straight year job gains topped two million, tying a streak in the 1990s.  The relatively steady gains have been impressive given that many analysts predicted job creation would slow last year as it became more difficult for employers to find workers. It suggests the economy is on steady footing and may have more room to expand. 3. Ending on a low note The unemployment rate is expected to hold at a 17-year low for the third straight month. The rate hasn’t fallen below 4% since December 2000. But watch a broader measure of unemployment and underemployment known as the U-6. That rate, which counts those too discouraged to look for a job and those stuck in part-time positions, edged up in November from an 11-year low. If that broader rate moves up again, it would suggest pockets of available workers in an otherwise tight labor market. 4. Better paydays ahead? Average hourly earnings have increased at a consistently lackluster rate of about 2.5% from a year earlier since 2015. But take a look at weekly earnings, as well. They rose more than 3% from a year earlier in November, the best increase since 2011. It’s a sign longer hours are contributing to noticeably larger paychecks. 5. Participation trends Look to see if the share of Americans working or looking for work holds steady to end 2017. The numbers have changed little in recent years, an indication that enough workers are being drawn back into the labor market to offset aging baby boomers who are increasingly retiring. RELATED In Cities With Low Unemployment, Wages Finally Start to Get Bigger (Jan. 1) Workers in 18 States Get Minimum-Wage Increases (Jan. 1) Economists React to the November Jobs Report: ‘Wage Growth Remains Muted’ (Dec. 8) Are There Workers Left on the Sidelines? (Dec. 7)

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