The numbers: The U.S. created a robust 263,000 new jobs in November, a historically strong pace of hiring that’s good for workers but that also threatens to prolong a bout of high U.S. inflation.
The continued rapid gains in hiring have become a big source of angst at the Federal Reserve. Senior central bank officials worry that wage growth stemming from a tight labor market is adding upward pressure to already high U.S. inflation.
The Fed is expected to keep raising interest rates — and pushing the economy closer to recession — until hiring slows, labor shortages ease and wage growth drops off.
U.S. stocks fell in premarket trades and bond yields rose after the report. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a smaller increase in new jobs of 200,000.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7%, the government said Friday, remaining close to a half-century low.
Hourly pay, meanwhile, rose by a sharp 0.6% last month to an average of $32.82. That’s the biggest advance in 13 months and was far stronger than Wall Street expected.
The increase in wages over the past year climbed to 5.1%, from 4.9% in the prior month. Wages are still rising much faster than they were before the pandemic, when they rose about 2% to 3% a year.
The demand for labor is still strong,” said chief economist Steve Blitz of TS Lombard. “It’s still putting upward pressure on wages.”
The Fed has embarked on a series of increases in U.S. interest rates to try to slow the economy just enough to tame inflation without tipping it into recession.
The bank is trying to bring inflation back down to prepandemic levels of 2% from the current rate of 6%, based on the PCE price index.
“The level of [hiring] is not conducive to getting the base inflation rate back to 2%,” Blitz said.
The tough medicine, senior Fed officials figure, is likely to lift the unemployment rate to as high as 5% by 2023. Some Wall Street analysts believe the jobless rate will go even higher if a recession takes hold, as many are forecasting.
Higher borrowing costs slow growth by depressing consumer spending and business investment, the two key pillars of the economy.
Another potential pressure valve for the economy is also not offering any relief. The share of working-age people in the labor force — known as the labor-force participation rate — fell a tick to 62.1%, marking the third drop in a row.
The lack of people looking for work is another big factor contributing to the labor shortage.
Key details: The increase in employment last month was concentrated in hotels, restaurants and healthcare businesses. Americans have gone back to seeing their doctors and are spending more on travel and entertainment.
Hiring also rose in construction and manufacturing, two areas of the economy that are under more duress, while government employment increased by 42,000.
There were some signs of labor-market softness in the report. Retail employment shrank for the third month in a row, and warehouse and transportation jobs also declined.
Hiring at professional businesses, a leader in employment, rose by a meager 6,000. That’s the smallest increase since April 2021.
Hiring in October and September were little changed after government revisions. The economy added 284,000 jobs in October and 269,000 in September.
Big picture: The economy is slowing, but the labor force is still an oasis of strength.
For the Fed, it’s too much of a good thing. The central bank wants the demand and supply of labor to become more balanced to ease the pressure on wages.
The ongoing labor shortage, however, might be a saving grace for the economy. Many businesses have told the Fed they plan to hold onto more workers than usual even if the economy slows, because it’s been so hard to hire people in the first place.
If that’s the case, the economy might escape a recession altogether or only suffer a short and shallow downturn, some economists say.
Looking ahead: “Job creation continues to top expectations, holding the unemployment rate near half-century lows,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors.
“The Fed may be closing in on a point that the pace of rate hikes could be stepped down, but the combination of tight labor markets and stubbornly elevated inflation leaves policymakers with a clear directive: keep tightening.”