Jobs continue gradual pace of growth

WASHINGTON — The pace of U.S. hiring remained steady in November despite disruptions from superstorm Sandy and employers’ concerns about impending tax increases from the year-end “fiscal cliff.”

Companies added 146,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent — the lowest in nearly four years — from 7.9 percent in October. The rate declined mainly because more people stopped looking for work and weren’t counted as unemployed.

The government said superstorm Sandy had only a minimal effect on the figures.

The Labor Department’s report Friday was a mixed one. But on balance, it suggested that the job market is gradually improving.

November’s job gains were roughly the same as the average monthly increase this year of about 150,000. Most economists are encouraged by the job growth because it’s occurred even as companies have reduced investment in heavy machinery and other equipment.

“The good news is not that the labor market is improving rapidly — it isn’t — but that employment growth is holding up despite all the fears over the fiscal cliff,” said Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight.

Still, Friday’s report included some discouraging signs. Employers added 49,000 fewer jobs in October and September combined than the government had initially estimated.

And economists noted that the unemployment rate would have risen if the number of people working or looking for work hadn’t dropped by 350,000.

The government asks about 60,000 households each month whether the adults have jobs and whether those who don’t are looking for one. Those without a job who are looking for one are counted as unemployed. Those who aren’t looking aren’t counted as unemployed.

A separate monthly survey seeks information from 140,000 companies and government agencies that together employ about one in three nonfarm workers in the United States.

Many analysts thought Sandy would hold back job growth significantly in November because the storm forced restaurants, retailers and other businesses to close in late October and early November.

It didn’t. The government noted that as long as employees worked at least one day during a pay period — two weeks for most people — its survey would have counted them as employed.

Yet there were signs that the storm disrupted economic activity in November. Construction employment dropped 20,000. And weather prevented 369,000 people from getting to work — the most for any month in nearly two years. These workers were still counted as employed.

All told, 12 million people were unemployed in November, about 230,000 fewer than the previous month. That’s still many more than the 7.6 million who were out of work when the recession officially began in December 2007.

Investors appeared pleased with the report, though the market gave up some early gains. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 53 points in mid-day trading.

The number of Americans who were working part time in November but wanted full-time work declined. And a measure of discouraged workers — those who wanted a job but hadn’t searched for one in the past month — rose slightly.

Those two groups, plus the 12 million unemployed, make up a broader measure that the government calls “underemployment.” The underemployment rate fell to 14.4 percent in November from 14.6 percent in October. It’s the lowest such rate since January 2009.

Since July, the economy has added an average of 158,000 jobs a month. That’s a modest pickup from an average of 146,000 in the first six months of the year.

In November, retailers added 53,000 positions. Temporary-help companies added 18,000. Education and health care also gained 18,000.

Auto manufacturers added nearly 10,000 jobs. Still, overall manufacturing jobs fell 7,000. That was pushed down by a loss of 12,000 jobs in food manufacturing that likely reflects the layoff of workers at Hostess.

Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, noted that hiring by private companies was actually better in October than the government first thought. The overall job figures were revised down for October because governments themselves cut about 38,000 more jobs than was first estimated.

The U.S. economy grew at a solid 2.7 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. But many economists say growth is slowing to a 1.5 percent rate in the October-December quarter, largely because of the storm and threat of the fiscal cliff.

The storm held back consumer spending and income, which drive economic growth. Consumer spending declined in October, the government said. And work interruptions caused by Sandy reduced wages and salaries that month by about $18 billion at an annual rate.

Still, many say economic growth could accelerate next year if the fiscal cliff is avoided. The economy is also expected to get a boost from efforts to rebuild in the Northeast after the storm.

More in Herald Business Journal

Mother-in-law homes popular after cities ease restrictions

Lynnwood and Everett are seeing a spurt of growth after changing city codes to allow for this development.

3 must-try doughnuts when Top Pot opens in Edmonds

After two years of work, the popular Seattle chain is opening its second Snohomish County location.

Facebook bans Trump-affiliated data firm Cambridge Analytica

The company allegedly held onto improperly obtained user data after claiming to have deleted it.

Boeing’s newest 737 Max makes first flight over Seattle

Prospects for the new aircraft — the Max 7 — are hazy, as low-cost carriers migrated to larger models.

Boeing’s an early casualty as investors dig in for trade war

The company’s share price is headed toward its biggest weekly slump in more than two years.

A niche Bothell publisher is becoming a mortgage matchmaker

Scotsman Guide has long served lending professionals. Now it’s offering information to borrowers.

Superstore chain Fred Meyer to stop selling guns, ammunition

Guns have been sold at nearly 45 of more than 130 stores in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

Trump’s possible China tariffs bring loud protests — in US

A potential trade war could reverberate across the U.S. economy.

Nike president to leave as company reviews improper conduct

By Matt Townsend / Bloomberg Nike is reviewing improper conduct at the… Continue reading

Does the IRS have your money?

The agency says it has refunds worth $1.1 billion just waiting to be claimed.

Federal investigation into Wells Fargo broadens

Wells Fargo already is wrestling with the aftermath of a scandal in its retail banking unit.

LL Bean: No bonus after tough year, more jobs to be cut

CEO Steve Smith said nearly 500 workers took advantage of a voluntary early-retirement program.