The winter jobs boom


It was a winter of surging job creation. Employers created jobs on a mass scale, Americans returned to the workforce, and the labor market shrugged off the Omicron variant and its broader pandemic funk.

  • That’s the takeaway from the February jobs report, which showed employers added 678,000 jobs last month. December and January job growth was better than previously thought, and the unemployment rate fell to 3.8%.

Why it matters: Yes, inflation is high as prices rose 7.5% over the last year as of January, and could rise higher as disruptions from the Ukraine war ripple through the economy.

  • But rising prices are coming amid an astonishingly rapid jobs boom.

Between the lines: The report shows the pandemic impact is fading. But some analysts warn not to expect this level of gains to continue as the crisis in Ukraine cuts into growth.

  • “The improvement in the American labor market is now very much a rearview mirror phenomenon,” economist Joe Brusuelas wrote in a research note.

One big surprise: Wage growth was essentially nonexistent, with average hourly earnings rising only a penny to $31.58.

  • That may reflect the nature of the jobs being added — disproportionately in the low-paying leisure and hospitality sector.
  • That is good news for those worried that rising wages and prices will drive further inflation. It is worse news for workers, whose average pay gain of 5.1% over the last year is far below inflation.

The share of adults in the labor force — which includes those looking for work — ticked up, as did the share of the population that’s actually employed. That suggests the robust job growth is pulling people back into the workforce, if gradually.

  • The labor force participation rate was 62.3% in February, more than a percentage point below its level two years ago, before the pandemic.

State of play: The Federal Reserve is set to begin an interest rate hiking campaign on March 16, amid high inflation and new geopolitical uncertainty from the Ukraine war. The new numbers are unlikely to change that one way or the other.

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