U.S. job growth slows

Job growth in the United States slowed in December with the smallest monthly gain in payrolls in three years.

The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in more than five years.

But the drop was attributed in part to fewer people working or looking for jobs.

According to the latest Labor Department estimates, nonfarm payrolls increased 74,000 in December. That’s less than half the average monthly gain over the past two years.

Weak job growth was blamed in part to unusually harsh weather that kept people from working during parts of December. The average workweek fell a tenth of an hour to 34.4 hours. Construction employment, which tends to vary with weather, fell 16,000.

Estimated payroll increases for November and October were revised upward 38,000 to a total of 441,000.

The latest figures brought the average monthly payroll gain during 2013 to 182,000. Payrolls increased an average of 183,000 a month during 2012.

The national jobless rate retreated three-tenths of a point to 6.7 percent in December. That’s the lowest rate since October 2008.

However, the proportion of people counted among those working or looking for work fell two-tenths of a point to 62.8 percent.

The number of people counted among the long-term unemployed who’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or more was little changed at 3.9 million. The number of people counted among those working part-time was unchanged at 7.8 million.

For December, employment in retail trades increased 55,000, with gains at food and beverage, clothing and general merchandise stores.

Professional and business services added a net 19,000 jobs as a gain of 40,000 positions in temporary helps services more than offset a loss of 25,000 positions in accounting and bookkeeping services. Wholesale trades added 15,000 jobs, while factory payrolls grew 9,000.

In addition to layoffs in the construction sector, employment decreased 12,000 in the information sector and 6,000 in the health care sector.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up 2 cents to $24.17 in December. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 42 cents.