U.S. Added 257,000 New Jobs in January With Strong Wage Gains

WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

The economy produced another robust month of job gains last month, adding 257,000 net new positions and a strong gain in wages, the Labor Department said Friday.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 5.7 percent, but that was because more people entered the labor force.

January’s job growth was bolstered by an additional 147,000 net new jobs combined in November and December, the Labor Department said.

The upward revisions mean the U.S. economy added an average of 336,000 jobs for the three months ending Jan. 30, an acceleration of 2014’s strong job growth.

Economists had forecast the January jobs report would show a gain of 230,000 and the unemployment rate would hold steady at 5.6 percent, the lowest since June 2008.

Wage gains were surprisingly strong in January, rebounding from a disappointing December.

Average hourly earnings rose by 12 cents last month to $24.75, after a disappointing drop of 5 cents the previous month.

Wage growth has been slow to recover from the Great Recession. But average hourly earnings were up 2.2 percent for the 12 months ended Jan. 31. The consumer price index rose 0.7 percent in 2014, largely because of falling oil prices, meaning wage growth easily outpaced inflation.

The jobs report came amid signs economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter after a blistering six-month stretch.

The Commerce Department said two weeks ago that the economy expanded at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, below forecasts and down significantly from 5 percent in the previous quarter.

Job growth last year was the best since 1999, averaging 260,000 a month, but the brisk pace of hiring was paired with sluggish wage gains.