What to Watch For in the December Jobs Report

The Labor Department will report the latest figures on hiring and unemployment at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch forecast that the data for December will show a gain of 198,000 jobs and they expect that the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent, the lowest level since 2000.

Here’s what you should keep your eye on:

The report will offer a picture of how the economy fared in President Trump’s first year in office. Things have been going remarkably well.

A gain in December would mark the 87th consecutive month of job growth, an unparalleled stretch of good news for workers, who continue to be in high demand.

“2017 was a very strong year for the labor market,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist for Indeed.com, a job-search site.

At the same time, job growth in the first 11 months of the year was slightly less robust than in the comparable period a year earlier under President Barack Obama. And most economists think presidents do not generally determine the course of the economy, though that hasn’t stopped Mr. Trump from taking credit.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, the president pointed to the 4.1 percent unemployment rate as evidence that the economy is “only getting better!” When he took office last January the rate was 4.8 percent.

And while it is too early to measure the effect on hiring of the corporate tax cut passed last month, Mr. Trump’s agenda may be having a positive impact on the economy in other ways.

His push to dismantle regulations on businesses seems to have emboldened corporations to start pouring more money into machines and plants, which is the kind of spending that drives broad growth.

Perhaps the most closely watched number in the report will be the changes in wages from the previous December.

For much of the year, earnings increased by around 2.5 percent. Anything higher could be a hopeful sign for American workers, whose salaries have not increased as quickly as some economists think they should have.

If wages barely budge, economists will continue to reckon with how companies can dole out paltry raises even as employees are in great demand.

“We don’t see our clients being willing to commit to wage increases on a permanent basis,” said Bill Ravenscroft, a senior vice president at Adecco Staffing USA. The agency employs around 60,000 workers — and even more during the holiday season — and places many of them in distribution centers and warehouses often used by e-commerce giants.

Those companies have increased pay for workers in hot warehouse markets, such as Memphis or the Inland Empire in Southern California, where they are competing with many other companies crowded into the same area, Mr. Ravenscroft said.

But instead of increasing salaries across the board, employers are vying for pickers, packers and shippers by offering new perks. Logistics companies have begun providing on-site child care or reimbursing employees who need to put their children in day care while they work.

Some companies are entering workers in raffles every week to win laptops, televisions and tablets, or bringing food trucks to their warehouses and paying for employees’ lunches.

“These types of benefits in the past, you associated them with Silicon Valley, start-up companies; they weren’t synonymous with your traditional employers,” Mr. Ravenscroft said. “We aren’t seeing them saying we are going to take a long-term, universal approach to raising wages.”

There are signs beneath the surface, though, that more widespread wage growth may be around the corner. In areas where unemployment has dipped below the national rate, pay has begun to accelerate.

Cities where joblessness is 3.5 percent or lower have also witnessed an impressive 4 percent annual increase in earnings, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Over the past few months, the industries that have been performing particularly well have been construction and manufacturing — middle-wage, middle-skill sectors that had been lagging. Mining companies also posted solid gains throughout 2017, bucking a trend of job losses in recent years.

Manual-labor positions are the kinds of jobs that Mr. Trump has promised to bring back in droves, so the uptick could be politically important.

The crash in oil prices in 2014 was particularly hard on jobs in the mining sector — which includes support services in oil fields — and had ripple effects on construction and manufacturing, partly because American companies make much of the world’s mining equipment. Oil prices have begun to climb, and that may be one piece of the expansion in all three sectors, economists said.

The rest of the world is also in the midst of a strong recovery, helping to drive an American uptick in productive blue-collar work.

“The manufacturing upturn story is a global story,” Mr. Shepherdson said. “It’s happening everywhere. You can’t take credit for the recovery in Europe and China.”

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/business/economy/jobs-report.html by NATALIE KITROEFF