Channel NewsAsia

US economy adds just 113,000 jobs in January

The US economy adds 113,000 jobs in January, below economists' expectations and suggesting continuing weakness after December's poor numbers.

WASHINGTON: The US job creation engine sputtered for the second straight month in January, raising fresh questions about the economy's momentum.

The Labor Department reported on Friday that the economy pumped out a net 113,000 new jobs in January, far fewer than the 175,000 that economists had forecast and even farther off the monthly average for last year of 194,000.

While hiring was strong in construction and professional services, retailers and government authorities at all levels shed significant numbers of workers, the department's survey of business establishments showed.

It came on the heels of January's 75,000 net hirings, which analysts had hoped was a seasonal fluke explained by severe weather conditions in much of the country.

The newest data suggested weather was not a significant factor in January.

"Folks, this isn't good news," said Brookings Institution economist Justin Wolfers.

"Today's data suggest recent trends of good-but-not-great jobs growth is continuing. But they warn us to be wary of a slowdown."

The monthly report carried a tentative silver lining.

The department's separate survey of households showed a surge in people returning to the workforce and getting jobs: 638,000 more people had work last month over December.

That pulled the overall unemployment rate down to 6.6 per cent from 6.7 per cent in December and 7.9 per cent a year ago.

And the labor force participation rate rose to 63 per cent, though that remains extremely low on historical standards.

The same data showed a decrease in the number of people forced to take part-time jobs because of the economy's weakness, and a fall in the number of those unemployed for more than 27 weeks.

While economists give less weight to the household survey as an indication of the economy's strength, they said it moderated the low job creation numbers from the establishment poll.

A real gain of 638,000 jobs in January "didn't really happen," said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

"But the trend in unemployment is down," he said.

The data raised questions about whether the Federal Reserve will, or should, continue its two-month-old operation to cut back its huge bond-buying stimulus program.

Based largely on the view that the economy was growing steadily and the jobs market was firming, the Fed sliced $10 billion from the monthly operation in January and is cutting another $10 billion this month, bringing it to $65 billion.

While some analysts say the January data could give them reason to pause, Fed policy makers do not meet again until March, when they will also have February's data under their belts.

Chris Williamson of Markit said Fed policy makers are likely to note the "erratic nature" of the data and still see the longer-term trend as a steady rise in hiring.

"A further taper under new Chair (Janet) Yellen still looks the most likely option, though the certainty of the decision has surely fallen with these numbers," he said.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna