Healthcare job growth slows; 13,000 hospital positions added in November

A coffee shop in Greenville South Carolina.- Joshua Rodriguez  Unsplash

USA job growth slowed in November and monthly wages increased less than expected, suggesting some moderation in economic activity that could support expectations of fewer interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve in 2019. The unemployment rate remained 3.7 percent, almost a five-decade low, for the third straight month.

Average hourly earnings rose 0.2% month-on-month and 3.1% year-on-year, with the latter matching its highest growth rate since April 2009.

Laurence Marzo, left, and Ty Ford, right, move a conveyor belt into place to help unload a truck carrying merchandise at a Walmart Supercenter in Houston.

But the United States added an average of 206,000 jobs a month through the first 11 months of 2018, above the 182,000 pace during the same period past year.

After a year of robust growth, economists say the effect of last year's Republican-driven tax cuts and recent fiscal stimulus is beginning to fade, creating worries about how much longer the current economic expansion can continue. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing by 200,000 jobs in November.

"Our economy is now performing very well overall, with strong job creation and gradually rising wages, " said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Thursday. "This report strongly implies that a recession is not looming just over the horizon".

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The question is how the Federal Reserve will digest the employment report in advance of its December meeting.

"This is the sort of jobs report that manages to both calm folks at the Fed a bit - no, we're not right on the cusp of overheating - while also continuing the narrative of robust ongoing jobs growth that will, if it continues, keep bringing unemployment down", said Justin Wolfers, a economist at the University of MI. First, what it calls the U-6 unemployment rate: It measures total unemployment, including discouraged and underemployed workers.

Overall, healthcare employment has increased by 328,000 over the year, according to the bureau. That's fewer than expected, but the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.7%. The African-American unemployment rate, often touted by President Donald Trump, fell to a record low of 5.9%. A net of 15,000 jobs were added in November, compared to 56,000 added in the previous month. And hiring at last month's pace would make it easier for the Federal Reserve to slow its interest rate increases, which investors worry are weighing on the economy.

Hiring in November was led by health care firms, which added 40,100 jobs, and professional services such as accounting and engineering, which gained 32,000.

Meanwhile, the amount of long-term unemployed Americans - those who have remained jobless for 27 weeks or more - declined by 120,000 to 1.3 million last month.

In the leisure services and hospitality category, which includes hotels, restaurants, and bars alongside performing arts, sports, gambling, and recreation, hiring has slowed significantly.

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Although it was a weaker-than-expected number, experts portrayed the data as another good report, particularly regarding wage growth.

October's jobs numbers were also revised down slightly, to put the monthly average over the past year at about 204,000 jobs, and the average over the last quarter at 170,000.

That's boosting consumer confidence to almost 18-year highs, spurring more spending, and bolstering winter holiday shopping. Sales of existing homes have fallen 5.4% from a year earlier, the biggest annual decline in more than four years.

Investors, however, are mostly focused on where the economy is headed.

"The U.S. economy is facing headwinds as the year winds down", said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.

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