The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced early Friday that the American economy added a net 155,000 jobs in December 2012 and that the official unemployment rate for the month was 7.8 percent.
Job gains in December were led by the healthcare industry, which added 45,000 positions. Employment in food services and drinking places rose by 38,000, construction added 30,000 jobs, and manufacturing saw 25,000 new positions.
The 7.8 percent rate was officially unchanged, as BLS revised the initially-reported 7.7 percent rate in November to 7.8 percent (BLS revises the year’s numbers each December).
The headline unemployment rate of 7.8 percent was down from the 8.5 percent rate in December 2011. An alternate measure of unemployment that factors in discouraged workers and those working part time against their will (the U-6 measure) was steady in December at 14.4 percent, and down from the 15.2 percent reading in December 2011.
The end-of-year report capped a turbulent, but improving, 12 months for the U.S. job market (although we’re on five years of job turbulence, truth be told). For the year, the economy averaged 153,000 new jobs each month, identical to the average from 2011.
But it was a very uneven year, especially in the first half of 2012. In the first quarter, job growth averaged 225,000 per month, the strongest quarter in more than five years. The second quarter immediately disappointed, producing an average of only 67,000 new jobs. There were also wild fluctuations in the jobs report from month to month, with February 2012 producing 259,000 new jobs and April seeing only 68,000.
The second half of 2012 was much steadier, however. Since July 2012, job growth has averaged nearly 160,000 per month, and in a relatively tight range of 192,000 to 132,000. In fact, the last six months of 2012 saw the steadiest employment picture since the economy was hemorrhaging jobs in late 2008 to early 2009.
While the jobs picture has been steady, it seems to have settled at a level that most economists say is too low to sustain growth. The 160,000 monthly job creation average over the second half of 2012 falls well-short of the 250,000 per month commonly cited as an indicator of healthy growth.
Does anyone have predictions for job growth (or contraction) in 2013? Tell us in the comments below.