More jobs in December, but unemployment rate unchanged

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 percent and employers added an additional 155,000 jobs in December, the government said Friday in an employment report that was neither hot nor cold.

With the additional December jobs, employers added 1.835 million jobs in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In normal times, that’d be a good showing, but recovery from the Great Recession continues to lumber along and the hiring numbers aren’t enough to bring down the high jobless rate.

Private-sector employers added 168,000 posts last month, but the overall number was dragged down by 13,000 government jobs lost. The 155,000 jobs reported fell in the range of the monthly average for all for 2012, which happened also to be the monthly average for 2011: 153,000. It means that hiring is on a steady, albeit not robust, trajectory.

“This was a ho-hum employment report. … It does little to alter our near-term expectations over the trajectory of growth. Employment pickup? Check. Upward revisions? Check. Pickup in earnings? Check. Extension in the workweek? Check,” Neil Dutta, the head of economic research for forecaster Renaissance Macro, wrote in a note to investors.

All those monthly indicators were up slightly in December, with a combined upward revision to October and November hiring of 14,000 jobs. But none of them is up enough to make economists think that the recovery is kicking into higher gear.

“For me this report indicates an economy that is stuck on a shallow growth trajectory,” Steven Ricchiuto, the chief economist for Mizuho Securities USA, said in a research note.

For the White House, the continued growth in employment is a sign of a recovery moving forward.

“The economy has now added private-sector jobs for 34 straight months, and a total of 5.8 million jobs have been added over that period,” Alan Krueger, the head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said of the jobs numbers in his White House blog.

For others, however, the status-quo numbers underscore the long road that’s still ahead.

“The jobs deficit — the number of jobs lost since the recession officially began five years ago plus the number of jobs we should have added just to keep up with the normal growth in the potential labor force — remains nearly 9 million. At December’s growth rate the labor market will not fill in that gap until the end of 2021,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the liberal Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement Friday.

Friday’s jobs report could have been worse. Washington’s dysfunction over the “fiscal cliff,” which was only partly averted by a New Year’s Eve deal, has weighed on hiring. And both growth and hiring are being held back as the Northeast struggles to recover from the flooding and other damage caused by superstorm Sandy.

“This is a constructive report from an economic growth perspective. Employment (particularly in the private sector) continued to expand at a moderate rate in the final three months of 2012 despite the uncertainties over the fiscal cliff,” wrote economists at RDQ Economics in New York, holding off on the superlatives.

Within the numbers, there were positive signs for 2013. The labor-intensive manufacturing and construction sectors ended 2012 on an up note, respectively adding 25,000 and 30,000 jobs in December. The leisure and hospitality sector added 31,000 jobs in the month, a sign that businesses and individuals are opening their wallets more.

The health care sector, which never stopped hiring, even in the depths of the recession and the U.S. financial crisis, added 44,500 jobs in December.

Along with the 13,000 government jobs lost, the retail sector shaved off more than 11,000 positions in December amid flat sales.

Measures of underemployment and stress in the labor market remained largely unchanged in December. The number of long-term jobless, out of work for half a year or more, held steady at 4.8 million and accounted for 39 percent of all the unemployed.

Similarly, the number of workers who have part-time jobs but reported they’d like full-time employment also held steady at 7.9 million.



_ Health care, up 44,500.

_ Leisure and hospitality, up 31,000.

_ Construction, up 30,000.

_ Manufacturing, up 25,000.

_ Professional and business services, up 19,000.

_ Financial services, up 9.000.

_ Transportation, warehousing, down 600.

_ Temporary help services, down 600.

_ Retail, down 11,300.

_ Government, down 13,000.