U.S. labor estimates defy hurricane concerns

Employment rose and unemployment declined as hurricane damage appeared to have little lasting effect on the U.S. labor market in November.

According to the latest Labor Department estimates, nonfarm payrolls increased 146,000. The monthly jobless rate fell two-tenths of a point to 7.7 percent, the lowest level since December 2008. The decline largely reflects unsuccessful job hunters leaving the work force, however.

Changes in nonfarm payrolls are based on surveys of businesses. The unemployment rate is based on separate surveys of households.

The latest statistical snapshot of labor conditions defies concerns Hurricane Sandy would affect the national market. The hurricane made landfall on the northeast coast Oct. 29, causing widespread damage and power outages in New Jersey and New York. An analysis conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests the hurricane didn’t substantively affect national employment and unemployment estimates for November.

Estimates of payroll gains in October and September were revised downward a total of 49,000 to 270,000. With the latest numbers, nonfarm payrolls have an increased an average of 151,000 a month in 2012.

That’s slightly below the average monthly gain of 153,000 jobs in 2011.

Still, the number of people counted among the long-term unemployed who’ve been out of work 27 weeks or longer was little changed in November at 4.8 million. That figure constitutes about 40 percent of the unemployed.

Another 8.2 million people were counted among those working part-time for economic reasons because their hours have been reduced or they’re unable to find full-time positions.

Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a White House statement the November labor report offers further evidence the U.S. economy continues to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. “It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December  2007,” Krueger said.

Holly Wade, a senior policy analyst for the National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation, said the outlook for small business hiring hasn’t changed much. The percentage of small business owners responding to a NFIB survey in November who reported adding jobs in the last three months fell two points to a net negative 1 percent, Wade said.

According to the Labor Department, gains in nonfarm payrolls were spread out among a number of industry sectors in November.

Employment in retail trades rose 53,000 with hiring at clothing, general merchandise and electronics stores. Professional and business services added 43,000 jobs, while employment in the leisure and hospitality sector rose 23,000. Employment continued to trend up in the health care and wholesale trade sectors.

Meanwhile, though, construction payrolls fell 20,000, pushing up the jobless rate for that sector eight-tenths of a point to 12.2 percent.

“In November, the economy essentially wiped out the previous gains that had been registered in the construction industry,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist for the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Factory payrolls fell 7,000 as losses in food and chemical manufacturing more than offset gains in automotive and wood products manufacturing.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.4 hours in November, while the average manufacturing workweek edged up a tenth of an hour to 40.6 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 4 cents in November to $23.63. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 1.7 percent.