The nation’s unemployment rate slipped to 6.6 percent last month as employers added a tepid 113,000 new jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The job gains were far less than the 194,000 a month average last year and could disappoint markets as they are far below Wall Street projections for a gain of around 175,000.
Revisions showed that November job growth was robust, however, at 275,000, and in all the department found that 34,000 more jobs were created at the end of last year than it previously detected. Wall Street stocks rose modestly on the news at the open of trading in New York.
“The U.S. job market has started 2014 with a whimper,” said Joseph Lake, U.S. Analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Payroll growth has been lackluster over the past two months, raising concerns that the U.S. economic recovery is faltering.”
In one important milestone, however, the department’s survey of households found that the economy has now fully recovered all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, with households reporting having 543,000 more jobs than they had at the peak of the last business cycle in December 2007.
Layoffs by the U.S. Postal Service led a 12,000 drop in federal government jobs last month, and retailers eliminated 13,000 jobs after a soft end to the Christmas selling season.
But those job losses were offset by robust growth of 48,000 in construction jobs and modest gains elsewhere at businesses around the country.
Underlining how static the job situation was during January, the average workweek was unchanged at 34.4 hours and average wage gains were steady at 1.9 percent over the last year.
“It was a moderately disappointing payroll report,” but the department’s survey of households was “incredible,” showing a 616,000 surge in employment, said Justin Wolfers, economics professor at the University of Michigan.
“Color me confused,” he said. But looking at the payroll report, which is derived from a monthly survey of large businesses and typically gets more attention than the separate survey of households, “The data suggest that recent trends of good but not great job growth is continuing,” he said.
The year 2013 was a good one for jobs overall, despite the slowdown at the end of the year. The department found in its annual benchmark revisions that businesses added 2.322 million jobs during the year, 347,000 more jobs than previously detected in earlier surveys.