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January Jobs Report Shows a Strengthening Economy: 3 Things You Need to Know

By Dan Caplinger – Updated Feb 7, 2020 at 7:28PM

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The news on the labor front was solid, even if markets didn't react all that favorably.

The stock market reflects the strength of the U.S. economy, and for years now, the employment picture in the U.S. has been improving. Friday's latest report on January employment numbers continued the upward trend, with solid job creation and continued low unemployment.

Yet even though economic strength is generally good for stock investors, there are often some hidden insights underneath the numbers everyone talks about. Below, we'll go over the three top takeaways you should know about from January's jobs report.

1. Headline numbers show a healthy economy

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 225,000 jobs in January. That number was higher than the roughly 160,000 to 170,000 jobs that most economists were looking to see, and it exceeded the average of 175,000 per month that the U.S. economy saw in 2019.

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The unemployment rate also stayed at historically low levels. The rate of 3.6% for January was up just a tenth of a percentage point from the previous month.

Average hourly earnings were up $0.07 to $28.44 per hour. That brings wage gains over the past 12 months to 3.1%, which some might typically see as a worrisome sign of inflation were it not for other signs across the economy that price pressures remain under control and won't cause a recession.

2. Where the jobs were

It's tempting to think that job increases occur across the board, but they're often concentrated in particular industries. In January, there were several areas of strength. The construction industry saw a 44,000-job gain, with specialty trade contract work getting a big boost. Healthcare added 36,000 jobs, as did the leisure and hospitality industry.

A big winner over the past year has been professional and business services. Although the 21,000 job increase in January wasn't the leader, the industry has produced 390,000 jobs over the past 12 months -- a major contributor to employment growth.

However, some industries got left out. The most notable hit came in the manufacturing industry, where 12,000 jobs were lost. In particular, the motor vehicles and parts segment suffered an 11,000 job decline during January.

3. More people are actively seeking work

One concern some have had during the economic expansion over the past decade has been how much of the potential workforce is actually either employed or actively looking for work. The most commonly followed measure of unemployment only looks at those who haven't dropped out of the labor force entirely, and data at times showed some people simply seeming to give up on finding a job.

However, January's report tells a different story. The labor force participation rate rose to 63.4%, and although that represented just a 0.2 percentage point increase from December, it also marked the highest level for participation since early 2013. Moreover, the number of unemployed people who reentered the workforce climbed by 183,000, or 11% -- showing that some people who'd been previously discouraged from looking decided to give their job search another try.

Cause for enthusiasm

From an investor's standpoint, a good January jobs report is a positive for many stocks. Healthy wage gains should help American consumers keep spending, and that should help the companies that provide the goods and services those consumers want. Strength in various sectors of the job market shows that there's a lot of activity in those areas, with positive implications for stocks in construction, healthcare services stocks , and shares of companies in the travel and leisure industry.

One month's readings aren't all that important by themselves, but the employment report for January showed continued upward trends that were encouraging. These numbers suggest that investors can look forward with high expectations that the economy can remain strong for the foreseeable future.

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