1/5/2018 11:24:00 AM Unemployment rate still at 17-year low; record-low joblessness for vets, others
WASHINGTON (AP) — The unemployment rates for African-Americans and recent veterans dropped to record lows in December, underscoring the health of the U.S. economy heading into 2018.
The jobless rate for black workers fell to 6.8 percent from 7.2 percent in November as more of them found employment in an increasingly tight labor market.
The unemployment rate for African-Americans, though now at its lowest level in records dating to 1972. remains stubbornly higher than the rates for other racial and ethnic groups. But Michael Feroli, an economist with JP Morgan Chase, notes that the gap between African-American and white unemployment rates is the narrowest on record.
And the rate for those who have served in the armed forces anytime since September 2001 dropped to 3.3 percent, the lowest level in data going back to 2008.
All told, employers added 148,000 jobs in December, a modest gain but still enough to suggest that the economy entered the new year with solid momentum.
The unemployment rate remained 4.1 percent for a third straight month, the lowest level since 2000, the Labor Department said Friday.
For all of 2017, employers added nearly 2.1 million jobs, enough to lower the unemployment rate from 4.7 percent a year ago.
Still, the data indicates that job gains are slowing, which typically happens when unemployment falls to ultra-low levels and fewer people are available to be hired. Average job gains have declined to 171,000 this year from a peak of 250,000 in 2014. Last year’s job gains were the fewest since 2010.
Despite the low unemployment and the difficulty some employers face in finding enough qualified workers, pay gains remain sluggish. Average hourly earnings rose 2.5 percent in December from a year earlier — about a full percentage point lower than is typical in a healthy economy.
Still, the December job growth, while modest, underscores the economy’s continued health. Last month’s pace of hiring is enough, over time, to lower the unemployment rate.
Solid economic growth in both the United States and major countries overseas is supporting more hiring. Factory managers received the most new orders in December than in any month since 2004. Retailers have reported strong holiday sales. Builders are ramping up home construction to meet growing demand.
Sales of existing homes reached their fastest pace in nearly 11 years in November. Consumer confidence is at nearly a 17-year high. And the Dow Jones industrial average reached 25,000 for the first time on Thursday.
Manufacturing and construction reported strong job gains in December, adding 25,000 and 30,000 jobs, respectively. A category that includes hotels and restaurants gained 29,200.
Most economists expect the Trump administration’s tax cuts to help speed the economy’s already decent pace of growth. Some envision the unemployment rate dropping as low as 3.5 percent by the end of 2018.
A rate that low would mark the lowest such level in nearly a half-century.