Job growth blew past expectations in October and year-over-year wage gains jumped past 3 percent for the first time since the Great Recession, the Labor Department reported Friday.
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Nonfarm payrolls powered up by 250,000 for the month, well ahead of Refinitiv estimates of 190,000. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7 percent, the lowest since December 1969.
“The job market is doing remarkably well, particularly this late in the expansion,” said Jim Baird, partner and chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors. “This report adds yet another data point to a narrative that has been positive for the labor market this year. Little seems to stand in the way of the economy finishing 2018 out on solid footing.”
The ranks of the employed rose to a fresh record 156.6 million and the employment-to-population ratio increased to 60.6 percent, the highest level since December 2008, according to the department’s household survey. That headline jobless number stayed level even amid a two-tenths of a percentage point rise in the labor force participation rate to 62.9 percent.
Those counted as outside the labor force tumbled by 487,000 to 95.9 million.
But the bigger story may be wage growth, which has been the missing piece of the economic recovery. Average hourly earnings increased by 5 cents an hour for the month and 83 cents year over year, representing a 3.1 percent gain. The annual increase in wages was the best since 2009.
That number is being watched closely by Federal Reserve, which has increased its benchmark interest rate three times this year and is on track for a fourth quarter-point hike in December. Higher wage growth feeds into the central bank’s desire to raise rates to keep inflation under control.
Treasury yields jumped following the report and stock index futures remained higher.
The big month for job gains comes off a disappointing September that may have been weighed down by the violent storm season in the Carolinas. That month’s reading fell further, from an initially reported 134,000 to 118,000. However, that decline was completely offset by an upward revision to August’s numbers, from an already strong 270,000 to 286,000.
Over the past 12 months, job gains have averaged a solid 211,000 despite sentiment from the Fed and elsewhere that the economy is at or near full employment.
A broader measure of unemployment that takes into account discouraged workers and those holding jobs part time for economic reasons edged lower to 7.4 percent.
Health care showed some of the biggest gains for the month, adding 36,000. Manufacturing contributed 32,000, thanks to a gain in durable goods and in particular transportation equipment, which added 10,000.
Construction also rose sharply, with an increase of 30,000 while transportation and warehousing jumped by 42,000.
In addition, leisure and hospitality was a strong contributor, with 42,000 new positions after being unchanged in September, due likely to Hurricane Florence, the government report said.
Professional and business services increased by 35,000, bringing its 12-month total gain to 516,000, and mining added 5,000.
Job growth skewed by full-time positions, which rose by 318,000, while part-time jobs increased by 242,000, according to the household survey.
Another closely watched internal metric, the average work week, increased 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours.