The numbers: The economy gained surprisingly strong 261,000 new jobs in October, underscoring the persistent strength of a labor market that the Federal Reserve worries will exacerbate high inflation.
Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast 205,000 new jobs.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 3.7% from 3.5%, the government said Friday, as more people lost jobs and the size of the labor force shrank a little bit.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Wednesday the labor market is “out of balance” because there’s too many job openings and too few people to fill them.
Fed officials worry the labor shortage is driving up wages and making it harder for them to reduce inflation back to precrisis levels of 2% or so. The cost of living has risen 8.2% in the past year, one of the highest increases since the early 1980s.
Layoffs and unemployment are likely to increase, however, if the Fed keeps raising U.S. interest rates as expected. The central bank could push a key short-term rate to as high as 5% by next year from near zero just nine months ago.
Rising interest rates slow the economy and sometimes trigger recessions. Many economists predict a downturn is likely by next year. Powell himself admitted the odds of avoiding a recession have fallen due to persistently high inflation.
In October, wages grew 0.4%. Average hourly pay rose slightly in September to $32.58, lowering the increase over the past year to 4.7% from 5%.
It’s the first time in almost a year that the rate of wage growth has dropped below 5%. Before the pandemic, they were rising around 3% a year.
Another potential pressure valve for the economy showed little progress, however. The so-called participation rate — or share of working-age people in the labor force — dipped to 62.2% from 62.3%.
U.S. stocks gave up gains in premarket trades after the report. Until hiring slows a lot further and unemployment rises, the Fed is unlikely to take its foot off the monetary brakes.
Key details: Employment rose last month in every major part of the economy.
The health-care industry added 53,000 new jobs to lead the way, followed by professional businesses (43,000), leisure and hospitality (35,000) and manufacturing (32,000).
Employment gains in September and August were revised up by a combined 29,000.
Big picture: The economy is slowing — almost every major indicator is much softer compared to earlier in the year.
The labor market is one of the few exceptions.
Normally that’s a good thing, but the Fed thinks the the labor market is too strong for its own good. The series of rate hikes undertaken by the central bank is bound to slow hiring even further and cause unemployment to rise in the months ahead.
The potential saving grace, Powell and some other economists say? Businesses have struggled so hard to hire people amid a labor shortage that they might not lay off as many people as they usually do when the economy goes sour.
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.46% and S&P 500 SPX, -1.06% were set to open lower in Friday trades. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y, 4.161% rose to 4.19%.
Corrected increase in new jobs in October.