312,000 jobs added in December; unemployment inches higher

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Businesses hired a stunning 312,000 workers in December, capping off a year of robust economic growth, the Labor Department said Friday.

The U.S. government shutdown and Trump's attacks on the Fed and its chairman over the central bank's rate increases have also anxious investors, though Powell may have eased some of those concerns Friday when he stressed that he would not resign if the president told him to do so. The unemployment rate held at 3.7% in November, matching a almost half-century low, and economists expect it declined further to 3.6% in December.

The jobless rate held in December at 3.7 percent, a 49-year low, as annual wage gains eased to 3 percent from a post-recession high of 3.1 percent, forecasts show. Median estimates from the Bloomberg polling suggest the U.S. added 184 thousand jobs for December, an improvement over November's 155 thousand addition, but still below the year's average of 206 thousand.

"So when we see the January jobs number, it could be a big negative", Hassett said.

The ripple effects from slower growth overseas could eventually hurt the USA economy, David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told NPR's Scott Horsley.

The Labor Department also revised job numbers for October and November, with both month's showing more jobs created than previously thought.

The unemployment rate is seen holding steady at 3.7%, its lowest level since 1969 during the Vietnam draft. Still, growth is likely to slow as the stimulus from last year's tax cuts wane.

"This should, at least for today, mute expectations that the Fed is off the table completely this year", said Omair Sharif, a senior economist at Societe Generale in NY.

"This should, at least for today, mute expectations that the Fed is off the table completely this year", said Omair Sharif, a senior economist at Societe Generale in NY.

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The Labor Department has not been affected by the partial shutdown of the USA government and will continue to publish economic data complied by its statistics agency, the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Data releases from Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis have been suspended during the shutdown, which started on Dec 22 amid demands by President Donald Trump for US$5 billion in border wall funding.

Against the backdrop of slowing growth in China, an ebb in consumer confidence, continued weakness in the housing market as well as cooling manufacturing activity, a soft employment report would exacerbate investor concerns about the economy's health.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 220,000 new claims last week.

The economy grew at a 3.4 percent pace in the third quarter. That could mean the January jobs report released next month would show a drop rather than a gain in employment.

More broadly, the US labor market is extraordinarily tight, leaving businesses reluctant to let workers go. Anecdotal evidence has been growing of companies experiencing difficulties finding workers, and raising wages to retain and attract employees.

The increase in hiring largely occurred in health care, hospitality and leisure, construction, manufacturing, and retail.

Other indicators pointed to a slowdown in the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing payrolls increased by 32,000 jobs in December, but could surprise on the downside after a measure of factory employment fell last month. For the year, those jobs have increased by 241,000.

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