Surprisingly weak jobs report puzzles economists
Last month’s expiration of extended benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed could accelerate that trend if many of them stop looking for work. Beneficiaries are required to look for work to receive unemployment checks. The likely increase in people who no longer are looking for work could cause the unemployment rate to fall by up to a quarter-percentage point early this year, economists say.
The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are pushing to extend the benefits for three more months. It’s unclear if they will succeed.
For all the fluctuations in monthly job growth, hiring has been strikingly stable for three years: Employers added 2.2 million jobs in 2013 and 2012, up slightly from 2.1 million in 2011.
Low-wage industries produced the biggest job gain last year, one reason wage growth has been weak. Employment in the temporary help industry rose nearly 10 percent — the biggest percentage increase for any major industry. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment firms reported the second-biggest increase, followed by retailers.
But hiring also improved last year in higher-paying professional services. This sector includes architects, engineers and information-technology workers.
Kenandy Inc., a developer of business software, expects to double its nearly 100-person staff this year after doubling it in 2013. CEO Sandra Kurtzig says the company is looking for software developers, salespeople and marketing and finance staff.
The Redwood City, Calif.-based company sells its cloud-based software mostly to manufacturers and medical device makers. It’s benefiting as U.S. factory output rises.
"The economy is doing better from what we can see," Kurtzig said. "There’s a lot of things that are playing to our advantage."
Among industries in December, health care cut 6,000 positions. Transportation and warehousing cut some jobs, suggesting that shippers hired fewer workers for the holidays. Governments cut 13,000 positions.
Despite December’s sharp slowdown, monthly job gains averaged 182,000 last year, nearly matching the average monthly gains for the previous two years.
One bright spot was manufacturing. Factories added 9,000 positions, the fifth straight gain. Still, that’s down from 31,000 in November. Retailers added 55,000 jobs.
Analysts estimate that the economy expanded at a healthy annual rate of 3 percent to 3.5 percent in the October-December quarter. That’s up from earlier forecasts of a 2 percent rate or less. It would follow a strong 4.1 percent growth rate reported for the July-September quarter.
AP Economics Writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.
Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber .