ALL NEWS

US employers add 199,000 jobs as unemployment falls to 3.9%

Jan 7, 2022, 6:43 AM
Marriott human resources recruiter Mariela Cuevas, left, talks to Lisbet Oliveros, during a job fai...
Marriott human resources recruiter Mariela Cuevas, left, talks to Lisbet Oliveros, during a job fair at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Federal Reserve policymakers at a meeting last month said the U.S. job market was nearly at levels healthy enough that the central bank's low-interest rate policies were no longer needed. That's according to minutes of the meeting released Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added a modest 199,000 jobs last month while the unemployment rate fell sharply, at a time when businesses are struggling to fill jobs with many Americans remaining reluctant to return to the workforce.

The Labor Department said Friday that the nation’s unemployment rate fell to a healthy 3.9% from 4.2% in November.

Omicron has sickened millions of Americans, forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights, reduced traffic and restaurants and bars and caused some major school systems to close, potentially keeping some parents at home with children and unable to work.

Still, the job market may be healthier than the modest hiring gain the government reported Friday. The aftermath of the pandemic has made the government’s employment figures more volatile, with one month’s data often followed by a sharply different trend a month or two later.

The economy has also shown resilience in the face of surging inflation, the prospect of higher loan rates and the spread of the omicron variant. Most businesses report steady demand from their customers despite chronic supply shortages.

Consumer spending and business purchases of machinery and equipment likely propelled the economy to a robust annual growth rate of roughly 7% in the final three months of 2021. Americans’ confidence in the economy rose slightly in December, according to the Conference Board, suggesting that spending probably remained healthy through year’s end.

Even with December’s modest gain, 2021 was one of the best years for American workers in decades, though one that followed 2020, the job market’s worst year since records began in 1939, a consequence of the pandemic recession. Companies posted a record number of open jobs last year and offered sharply higher pay to try to find and keep workers. Americans responded by quitting jobs in droves, mainly for better pay at other employers.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Inflation is surging and new omicron infections are spiking, but America’s employers are thought to have kept right on hiring in December on the strength of solid consumer spending.

One reason for optimism about the jobs data the government will issue Friday morning is that it wasn’t likely affected much by the omicron wave. The hiring figures will reflect the state of the job market for the first half of December, before omicron viral cases spiked.

Economists have estimated that employers added 400,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by data provider FactSet. That would mark an increase from 210,000 in November. The unemployment rate is expected to have fallen from 4.2% to 4.1%, a relatively healthy level.

Many employers need to fill jobs because they continue to enjoy steady demand from customers despite chronic supply shortages. In fact, Friday’s employment report will conclude one of the best years for American workers in decades, though it was one that followed 2020 — the job market’s worst year since records began in 1939, a consequence of the pandemic recession.

Companies posted a record number of open positions last year and offered sharply higher pay to try to find and keep workers. Americans responded by quitting jobs in droves, mostly for better pay at other employers.

All told, the number of jobs grew more than 4% in 2021 through November, the biggest gain since 1978, after a 6.2% plunge in jobs in 2020. So great was the pandemic-driven loss of employment, though, that even now, the economy remains nearly 4 million jobs shy of pre-pandemic levels.

Economists have cautioned that job growth may slow in January and possibly February because of the spike in new omicron infections, which have forced millions of newly infected workers to stay home and quarantine, disrupting employers ranging from ski resorts to airlines to hospitals.

Alaska Airlines said it’s cutting 10% of its flights in January because of an “unprecedented” number of employees calling in sick. But because omicron is less virulent than previous COVID-19 variants and few states or localities have moved to limit business operations, economists say they believe its economic impact will be short-lived.

“In the end, the hit from omicron will probably be modest and relatively brief,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at TD Securities.

Still, Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics, a forecasting firm, calculates that up to 5 million people — roughly 2% of America’s workforce — could be stuck at home with COVID over the next week or so. Workers without sick leave who miss a paycheck are classified by the government as jobless. Any such trend could sharply lower job gains in the employment report for January, to be released next month.

Omicron will also likely weigh on jobs at restaurants and bars. The number of Americans willing to eat at restaurants started to slip in late December, according to the reservations website OpenTable. Restaurant traffic was nearly at pre-pandemic levels for much of November but had fallen nearly 25% below those levels by Dec. 30, based on a weekly average of OpenTable data.

Other measures of the economy have mostly reflected a resilient economy. A survey of manufacturing purchasing managers found that factory output grew at a healthy pace in December, if slower than in previous months. Hiring also picked up. Auto dealers report that demand for new cars is still strong, with sales held back by semiconductor chip shortages that have hobbled auto production.

Last month, Americans’ confidence in the economy actually rose slightly, according to the Conference Board, suggesting that spending probably remained healthy through year’s end. Thanks to solid consumer spending and increased business purchases of machinery and equipment, the economy is estimated to have expanded at an annual rate of up to 7% in the final three months of 2021.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

The community built a small memorial in front of Macie Hill's family home. Hill passed away after a...
Amie Schaeffer

GoFundMe started to remember 8-year-old girl who died in Kaysville parade

The Kaysville City Fourth of July parade turned tragic when Macie Hill was hit by a vehicle. She reportedly died from her injuries.
18 hours ago
Highland Drive Closed...
Heather Kelly

Highland Drive open after closing for hours due to fatal crash involving Coke truck

A crash left Highland Drive closed between 4500 and 4600 South on Tuesday morning. The crash left a 74-year-old woman dead.
18 hours ago
A brush fire started in Saratoga Springs last night. Photo Credit: Saratoga Springs Fire Department...
Devin Oldroyd

Fire officials say aerial firework caused brush fire in Saratoga Springs

An aerial firework caused a brush fire in Saratoga Springs Sunday night.
2 days ago
FILE - Fireworks explode over Baltimore's Inner Harbor during the Ports America Chesapeake 4th of J...
BOBBY CAINA CALVAN ASSOCIATED PRESS

A turbulent US this July 4, but many see cause to celebrate

July 4 has arrived as many citizens struggle to find a reason to celebrate. Yet many also see cause for celebration, including President Joe Biden.
2 days ago
The Deuel Creek Fire started on the hillside above Centerville late Sunday night....
Devin Oldroyd

Deuel Creek Fire starts in Centerville overnight, evacuation order lifted

The Deuel Creek Fire began late Sunday night in Centerville.
2 days ago
Tooele City announced its firework restrictions Sunday evening. Photo Credit: Tooele City's Faceboo...
Devin Oldroyd

Tooele City releases fireworks restrictions map

Tooele City announced its firework restrictions Sunday evening.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
US employers add 199,000 jobs as unemployment falls to 3.9%