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US Job Growth Sputters Far Below Projections During Normally Robust Holiday Season

'It’s clear: His “plan” is not working!'

(Headline USA) U.S. employers added a modest 199,000 jobs last month while the unemployment rate fell sharply, at a time when businesses are struggling to fill jobs with many Americans remaining reluctant to return to the workforce.

The numbers continued to cast a grim pall over the dire Biden economy, which has sputtered due to mismanagement at every turn, including near-record inflation and controversial vaccine mandates that keep many from seeking gainful employment.

It comes at a time when the holiday season typically offers a nice boost on commercial spending.

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Consumer spending and business purchases of machinery and equipment likely propelled the economy to a growth rate of roughly 7% in the final three months of 2021.

But threats of further lockdowns and an ongoing supply-chain crisis led many to scale down their normal festivities. The data for the jobs report reflect the state of the economy in early December, before the spike in COVID infections began to disrupt the economy later last month.

Friday’s jobs report from the Labor Department showed that the nation’s unemployment rate fell from 4.2% to 3.9%, with 651,000 more people said they were employed in December compared with November.

However, those fell well short of the projected growth from the Biden administration, which already had been modest from the outset.

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Moreover, the jobless numbers are likely to rise again once short-term holiday jobs expire, particularly with the surge of the mild omicron variant of the coronavirus resulting in new closures.

With inflation surging, wages rose sharply, a sign that what the administration claimed was a short-term price hike may now have metastacized into something permanent. Most indications were that the pay increases were not enough to offset the near double-digit cost-of-living increases.

Economists have cautioned that job growth may slow in January and possibly February because of the spike in new omicron infections, which have forced millions of newly infected workers to stay home and quarantine, disrupting employers ranging from ski resorts to airlines to hospitals.

Alaska Airlines said it’s cutting 10% of its flights in January because of an “unprecedented” number of employees calling in sick. But because omicron is less virulent than previous COVID-19 variants and few states or localities have moved to limit business operations, economists say they believe its economic impact will be short-lived.

Still, Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics, a forecasting firm, calculates that up to 5 million people—roughly 2% of America’s workforce—could be stuck at home with COVID over the next week or so.

Workers without sick leave who miss a paycheck are classified by the government as jobless. Any such trend could sharply lower job gains in the employment report for January, to be released next month.

Omicron will also likely weigh on jobs at restaurants and bars. The number of Americans willing to eat at restaurants started to slip in late December, according to the reservations website OpenTable. Restaurant traffic was nearly at pre-pandemic levels for much of November but had fallen nearly 25% below those levels by Dec. 30, based on a weekly average of OpenTable data.

The aftermath of the pandemic has made the government’s survey of company payrolls more volatile, with one month’s data often followed by a sharply different trend a month or two later.

On Friday, for example, November’s job gain of 210,000 was revised up to 249,000, and October’s gain, originally reported at 531,000, was upgraded to 648,000.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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