U.S. jobless rate slips below 5 percent

Job growth continues in the United States even as the unemployment rate slipped below 5 percent for the first time in nearly eight years.

According to the latest Labor Department Estimates, nonfarm payrolls increased 151,000 in January with gains spread across several industry sectors. The unemployment rate edged down a tenth of a point to 4.9 percent, the first reading below 5 percent since February 2008. Earnings increased.

An initial estimate of 292,000 net new jobs in December was revised downward to 262,000. But the initial estimate for November payrolls was revised upward from 252,000 to 280,000. The combined net difference was 2,000 less than previously reported.

With the latest numbers, nonfarm payrolls have increased on average 231,000 over the past three months.

Still, 2.1 million people were counted among the long-term unemployed who’ve been out of work 27 weeks or more. Another 6 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours have been cut or they’re unable to find full-time positions.

The labor force participation rate was little changed at 62.7 percent.

For January, retail trades added 58,000 net new jobs with hiring in general merchandise stores, electronics and appliance stores and automotive parts dealers.

Employment increased 47,000 at food services and drinking places, while health care payrolls rose 37,000. Manufacturers added 29,000 positions, while the financial activities sector added another 18,000 jobs.

Employment decreased in educational services, transportation and warehousing. Mining payrolls continued to decline with a net loss of 7,000 positions. Since reaching a peak in September 2014, the sector has shed 146,000 jobs.

The National Federation of Independent Business reported that members of the small business group responding to a survey reported an uptick in hiring in January.

Meanwhile, 29 percent of small business owners responding to the survey said they had jobs they were unable to fill in January, 2 percent more than in December and the highest level since the recession.

The percentage of owners citing difficulty finding qualified workers as their most pressing business problem remained unchanged at 15 percent for the third month in a row. That makes it the third biggest problem for small business owners behind taxes and regulations.

The Labor Department reported the average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 34.6 hours in January. The manufacturing workweek also edged up a tenth of an hour to 40.7 hours. Factory overtime held steady at 3.3 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 12 cents to $25.39 in January. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 2.5 percent.