Job creation for the new year started off with a thud, as January hiring came in below most economists’ forecasts and the unemployment rate ticked up after holding steady for two consecutive months.
The economy added 157,000 new jobs last month, but that was below most estimates. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had a median forecast for nonfarm payrolls to grow by 165,000. A Reuters survey put the increase at 160,000, while data compiled by FactSet predicted a gain of 155,000.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 7.9% from 7.8% — a level it had held since November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a report. Economists had forecast the rate to remain unchanged for a third straight month.
However, as always, whether folks actually landed jobs was highly dependent on the industry in which they were looking.
Drilling down into the Department of Labor’s December Employment Situation report revealed continued strength in retail trade, construction, healthcare and wholesale trade. At the same time, post-holiday seasonal trends hurt employment in transportation and warehousing.
The strongest job creation last month took place in retail trade, which added 33,000 positions, well ahead of last year’s average monthly gain of 20,000. Top areas for hiring included motor vehicle and parts dealers, electronics and appliance stores, and clothing stores.
Construction also was a good place for job hunters last month, as employment grew by 28,000. Almost all the growth was seen in specialty trade contractors, which added 26,000 new jobs. Since bottoming out two years ago, construction employment has grown by 296,000, with a third of those gains coming in just the last four months.
Healthcare hiring likewise kept pace, adding 23,000 jobs last month. The top area of new employment was ambulatory healthcare services, which added 28,000 positions. However, that growth was partially offset by a loss of 8,000 jobs at nursing and residential care facilities.
Wholesale trade saw employment grow by 15,000 in January, with most of the increase occurring in nondurable goods, the Labor Department said. Other winners included jobs in the mining industry, which saw a gain of 6,000 jobs last month.
The industries shedding the most jobs in January were transportation and warehousing, which contracted by 14,000. Seasonal holiday trends caused big job losses among couriers and messengers. Air transportation employment also dropped by 5,000 in January.
Manufacturing employment was essentially unchanged in January, the Labor Department said, as was hiring and firing in financial activities, professional and businesses services, and leisure and hospitality.