Job growth in the U.S. slowed sharply last month, the latest in recent signs of economic weakening amid turbulent global financial markets, lower corporate profits and a contracting manufacturing sector at home.
The government said Friday that employers added 151,000 jobs in January, down from a revised 262,000 jobs in December and 280,000 in November. Late last year’s hiring was probably inflated by unseasonably warm weather; still, analysts on average were expecting job growth of about 190,000 last month.
The unemployment rate, however, edged down to 4.9 percent last month, the lowest since February 2008. And in another positive sign, the Labor Department said Friday that workers’ average hourly wages rose a strong 12 cents in January to $25.39 after being flat the prior month. The January figure was up 2.5 percent from a year earlier.
The jobs report may add to anxieties that the American economy is losing momentum and could be in for a sharp slowdown after more than 6 ½ years of recovery. The weaker-than-expected job growth, if followed by more signs of slowing, would likely give the Federal Reserve pause in nudging up interest rates at its next meeting in March.
Even before stocks and oil prices began convulsing at the start of the year, thanks largely to worries about China’s economic slowdown, job growth in the U.S. was expected to moderate after back-to-back years of robust increases that outpaced the broader economic performance. The economy added an average of 221,000 jobs a month last year, a pace that was unlikely to be sustained given the slow economic output and an economy closing in on full employment.
In January, the hiring picture by industries was mixed. Retailers led the way, adding 58,000 jobs over the month after no gain in December. Restaurants kept up their brisk level of hiring, increasing payrolls by 47,000. And manufacturing added a surprisingly strong 29,000 jobs, despite declining production indications in the last four months.
The big weakness in hiring last month came in the sprawling business and professional services, which added a small 9,000 jobs after increasing a net 60,000 staff in December. Private educational services, the transportation and warehousing sector, as well as the oil and related mining industry, shed jobs last month.