The U.S. economy in January continued the slow but steady improvements that have characterized the post-recession period, as federal economists Friday reported that employers added 200,000 jobs last month while unemployment held steady at 4.1 percent.
Worker pay jumped in January, with average hourly wages up 2.9 percent from a year ago. The bump suggests wage gains, which have lagged after the Great Recession despite steadily declining unemployment, may be accelerating. Economists have expected low unemployment would produce increased wages, with employers eager to retain and attract workers now that the pool of available labor is far smaller.
Catherine Barrera, chief economist at the job site ZipRecruiter, said employers are starting to adjust wage practices.
“The labor market is really tightening,” she said. “You do see wages rising, though more quickly in certain geographic areas.”
The unemployment rate has hovered at the lowest levels since the final months of Bill Clinton’s presidency in 2000. It has been slowly declining since a peak of 10 percent in 2009.
Kate Bahn, an economist at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, attributes last month’s pay boost to state measures that led to larger checks for more workers.
Eighteen states increased their minimum wages in January, including Ohio, Florida, Washington and Maine. These changes affected 4.5 million workers, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.
Analysts caution against drawing overly broad conclusions from a single report, saying long-term averages provide a better gauge of the country’s economic vitality.
Politicians, however, often cite the figure to defend their stewardship of the economy or criticize their rivals.
President Trump has frequently touted job growth during his administration as proof he’s delivering the economic renaissance he promised during his campaign. So far, however, job growth under Trump has been similar to the growth under President Barack Obama. U.S. employers added 2.1 million jobs in 2017, compared with 2.2 million in 2016.