After more than five years of elusive gains, Americans may finally be about to see the benefits of the recovery where it really counts: in their pocketbooks and wallets.
The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 321,000 jobs in November — a much stronger number than expected — but perhaps even more significant was the biggest gain in average hourly earnings since June 2013.
Hourly earnings rose by 0.4 percent in November, double what economists had been expecting even as the number of hours people were working ticked up a tenth as well. That gain in hourly pay was significantly above the 0.1 percent increase in October, let alone the unchanged number in September.
“The pairing of strong hiring and wage gains is a really strong indicator of the health of the economy,” said Tara Sinclair, chief economist at Indeed.com, a leading job search website. “Now, we want to see people coming back into the workforce and also finding the right jobs for them in terms of wages, skills, and hours.”
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The pickup in wage growth also is coming as gasoline prices are plunging, providing a double boon for consumers and retailers with the holiday shopping season underway.
For the year as a whole, the gain in jobs, with one month still to go, is shaping up as the best in 15 years.
As good as it all sounds, in economics most things cut both ways, and Friday’s report was no exception.
The nascent labor market strength makes it more likely the Federal Reserve will start raising short-term interest rates sooner rather than later. Most economists expect the central bank to increase interest rates in mid-2015, after leaving them near zero since the depths of the financial crisis in late 2008.
Although government number crunchers try to adjust for seasonal swings like hiring by stores ahead of the holiday, retailing still showed unusual strength, adding 50,000 workers in November. That was more than twice the average monthly gain of 22,000 retail workers over the last year.
Manufacturers, often seen as a bellwether of swings in the broader economy and a source of good blue-collar jobs, particularly for men, hired 28,000 workers in November. Health care employment jumped by 29,000, bringing total gains in the field over the last 12 months to 261,000.
The unemployment rate remained unchanged from last month at 5.8 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.
Government statisticians also revised upward the number of jobs added in September and October by 44,000, another good sign.