The U.S. labor market just got a strong report card for January 2012. The Labor Department said today that nonfarm employment rose by a surprisingly robust 243,000 during the month, and the overall unemployment rate slid to 8.3%. Both headline figures were much better than consensus estimates. And the jobless rate drop is the fifth consecutive monthly improvement.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted: “Job growth was widespread in the private sector, with large employment gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. Government employment changed little over the month.”
That last point is crucial, given how many public sector jobs have been eliminated in the past two years, which has been an overall drag on the national labor market. With private companies clearly adding to their payrolls, the report provides a picture of a long-struggling labor market finally getting some traction on the road to recovery. While America still has 12.8 million unemployed people and the jobless rate is still quite elevated at 8.3%, that overall rate has now moved down 0.8 points since August.
Evidence for how far the labor market still has to go can be found throughout this otherwise hopeful report. For instance, the BLS points out: “The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 5.5 million and accounted for 42.9 percent of the unemployed.”
Still, if further reports confirm that the labor market is truly recovering, January’s will be seen as the one where it turned the corner.