New year begins with gains in payrolls and wages

U.S. payrolls continued to increase at the start of a new year. But earnings increased more, with their biggest year-over-year proportional gain since 2009.

According to the latest Labor Department estimates, nonfarm payrolls swelled 200,000 in January as the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent for a fourth consecutive month.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 9 cents to $26.74 in January, bringing the increase over the past year to 75 cents. At 2.9 percent, the increase was the largest since June 2009.

The initial estimate for payroll gains was revised upward 12,000 to 160,000 for December, but revised downward 36,000 to 216,000 for November. The changes resulted in a net decrease of 24,000 jobs.

Given the latest numbers, payrolls have increased an average of 192,000 a month over the past three months.

Still, 6.7 million people were counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work. Of those, 1.4 million have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Another 5 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours have been reduced or they’ve been unable to find full-time positions.

The labor force participation rate has remained unchanged at 62.7 percent for four straight months.

Payroll gains for January were spread out among several industry sectors.

Employment increased 36,000 in construction, bringing to 226,000 the gain over the past year. Payrolls increased 31,000 in food services and drinking places, 21,000 in health caare and 15,000 in manufacturing.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened two-tenths of an hour to 34.3 hours in January, the lowest level in four months. The average manufacturing workweek also decreased two-tenths of an hour to 40.6 hours.