December brings happy ending to 2018 with big payroll gains

The pace of job growth in the United States surged in December with the biggest payroll gain in 10 months. The unemployment rate edged up as more people looked for work.

Nonfarm payrolls swelled 312,000, and the jobless rate rose two-tenths of a point to 3.9 percent, according to the latest Labor Department estimates.

Estimated payroll gains for the previous two months were revised upward a total of 58,000 to 176,000 in November and 274,000 in October.

Given the latest numbers, U.S. payrolls increased 2.6 million in 2018, up from 2.2 million in 2017. Payrolls have increased an average of 254,000 a month over the last three months.

Still, 6.3 million people were counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work in December. Of those, 1.3 million have been out of work 27 weeks or longer. Another 4.7 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours have been cut or they’ve been unable to find full-time positions.

The labor participation rate rose two-tenths of a point to 63.1 percent, the highest level since September 2017.

Job gains for December were spread out among industry sectors. Health care payrolls increased 50,000. Professional and business services added 43,000 jobs, while food services and drinking places added 41,000. Employment increased 38,000 in construction, 32,000 in manufacturing and 24,000 in retail trades.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 34.5 hours. The manufacturing workweek lengthened a tenth of an hour to 40.9 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 11 cents to $27.48. Over the past year, hourly earnings have increased 84 cents, or 3.2 percent.