More jobs, but higher jobless rate

Trends in the U.S. labor market continue in the new year much the same way they did last year with slowly accelerating job growth, but not yet enough to pull down jobless rates.

According to the latest estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls grew 157,000 in January even as the national unemployment rate edged up a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent.

Estimates for payroll gains for December and November were revised upward a total of 127,000 to 443,000. Counting those revisions and others made as part of an annual benchmarking process, nonfarm payrolls grew an average of 181,000 a month during 2012, up from what initially was estimated at 153,000.

Meanwhile, though, the unemployment rate has remained little changed since September.

Neither has the number of long-term unemployed changed significantly.

For January, 4.7 million people were counted among those out of work for 27 weeks or longer. Another 8 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours have been reduced or they’re unable to find full-time positions.

The latest results of a monthly survey of small business owners conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business indicates improving prospects for hiring, but only slightly so.

According to the results of the January survey, 18 percent of owners reported unfilled job openings, up two points from December. The share of owners who plan to increase staffing also rose two points, but brings the overall proportion to a net 3 percent.

A separate index tracking labor trends has edged down, but continues to signal moderate job growth in the months ahead.

The Conference Board reported that its Employment Trends Index slipped about a tenth of a point to 109.38 in January. The latest reading remains 2.7 percent higher than this time last year, however.

The pace of job growth could slow, said Gad Levanon, an economist with the Conference Board, a business research and membership group.

“Employment growth has outpaced economic growth in recent months, and the ETI suggests that the rapid pace of improvement in hiring may not continue in the coming months.”

The ETI aggregates eight labor market indicators to more accurately reflect underlying trends. For January, six of the eight indicators retreated.

For January, nonfarm payroll gains were spread out among several industry sectors. Employment in retail trades increased 33,000, with hiring in clothing, electronics and auto parts stores. Construction employment increased 28,000 with specialty trades contractors accounting for nearly all of the gain. Health care payrolls grew another 23,000.

Transportation and warehousing firms cut payrolls by 14,000, while employment showed little change in other major industry sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.4 hours. The average manufacturing work week shortened a tenth of an hour to 40.6 hours.

Average hourly earnings on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 5 cents to $19.97. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 2.1 percent.