The best to be said of the 2012 U.S. job market was that it was resilient.
By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star
The best hopes for this year are for more of the same.
Despite concerns about the fiscal cliff and costs connected to the health care overhaul, employers added a net 155,000 payroll jobs in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
The unemployment rate was unchanged from Novembers 7.8 percent, which was revised from 7.7 percent based on new population data.
It was about the same tepid pace of job creation as the monthly average over the last two years. Surveys predict comparable lukewarm growth this year, assuming the nation continues its modest 2 percent economic growth.
Depending on the survey and industry, just 25 to 40 percent of employers say they expect to add staff this year.
Employers have restored just under half of the jobs lost in the recession, and at the current rate the sub-par recovery will continue its long, flat trajectory.
The employment situation is merely stable flying at a low altitude, suggested John Silvia and Sarah Watt, economists with Wells Fargo Securities.
History will put the net job gain for 2012 at about 1.8 million leaving the nation still about 4 million jobs shy of its pre-recession count, even after 34 straight months of net job gains.
There is little in this report to suggest any divergence from the modest growth path that the economy has been following the last two years, said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
Job creation at the current rate will not return us to full employment until the next decade, Baker said. Economists have considered 4 percent joblessness to be a full employment rate.
The governments December report included, as usual, revisions of previously reported job gains. Novembers gains were revised upward by 15,000, to 161,000. Octobers gains were nearly unchanged at 137,000.
Still, about 12.2 million people were counted as unemployed and looking for work at year-end.
The number of long-term unemployed who had been job hunting for at least six months accounted for 4 in 10 of them. Those workers have the hardest time landing new jobs.
The headline unemployment rate does not fully capture the severity of the unemployment experience for millions of Americans, Silvia and Watt wrote Friday in a newsletter.
The average duration of joblessness continues at a record-high 40 weeks, a factor that helped push this weeks decision by Congress to extend the federal unemployment benefits program through 2013. All extended benefits had been scheduled to end the week ending Dec. 29, 2012.
Another continuing lackluster aspect of the jobs report was that nearly 8 million workers were listed as employed part-time involuntarily because they couldnt get a full-time job or their hours had been reduced.
Equally worrisome to economists was that the labor force participation rate remained at a low 63.6 percent. That represents the share of the working-age population that is working or looking for work. A rising participation rate will indicate job growth as well as consumer confidence that jobs are available.
For workers across the board, average hourly earnings on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 7 cents in December to $23.73. Over the year, average hourly earnings rose 2.1 percent, just enough to keep paycheck growth on par with the annual rate of inflation.
That growth, though, will be wiped away for many workers as payroll taxes bump up 2 percent starting this month.
For December, the bureau said, the average workweek for employees edged up by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours. That compared with 34.4 hours in December 2011.
Economists watch the length of the work week as a sign that business is growing. Employers generally ask employees to work longer hours to handle business growth before making new hires.
A CareerBuilder survey last month said one in four U.S. employers intended to add employees some time this year.
A more narrowly focused outlook from the Society for Human Resource Management, released this week, said 42.2 percent of manufacturers intended to hire this month, as did 37.8 percent of service-sector employers.
Residential and nonresidential construction is improving, and manufacturing activity ended the year on a stronger note, said Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director at Moodys Analytics, noting that post-Sandy rebuilding on the East Coast was buoying construction employment.
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