Employment increased 199,000 in the United States in December, the smallest monthly gain in 2021, even as the unemployment rate decreased to 3.9 percent.
The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate for nonfarm payrolls was less than half the average monthly gain of 537,000 in 2021. With a three-tenths of a percent decline between November and December, the jobless rate fell to a COVID-19 pandemic-era low.
Estimated payroll gains for November and October were revised upward a total of 141,000 to 249,000 and 648,000, respectively.
Nonfarm payrolls have increased 18.8 million since April 2020, but remain 3.6 million lower than the pre-pandemic level in February 2020.
For December, 6.3 million people were counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work. Of those, 2 million have been out of work 27 weeks or longer.
Another 3.9 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours were cut or they were unable to find full-time positions.
The labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 61.9 percent, still 1.5 percent below February 2020.
Payroll gains for December were spread out among a number of industry sectors. Employment increased 53,000 in leisure and hospitality, 43,000 in business and professional services, 26,000 in manufacturing and 22,000 in construction. Payrolls grew 19,000 in transportation and warehousing, 14,000 in wholesale trades and 7,000 in mining.
The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.7 hours. The average manufacturing workweek edged down a tenth of an hour to 40.3 hours.
Average hourly earnings increased 19 cents to $31.31. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 4.7 percent.