The U.S. Labor Department reported that 252,000 jobs were added in December, bringing the year’s total to 2.95 million jobs – the biggest growth in additional employment since 1999. In addition, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.6%, the lowest figure since June 2008.
“The jobs report demonstrates that we have a very strong wind in our back in the U.S. economy,” said Labor Department Secretary Tom Perez.
Not all the news was positive. Wages in December fell .2%, and November wages were revised to only .2% growth from its original .4%. In total for 2014, wages rose 40 cents (from $24.17 to $24.57), an increase of 1.65%.
The unemployment rate declined by 1.1% in 2014. But the participation rate (the percentage of working-age people in the labor force) fell to 62.7%, the lowest figure in nearly 40 years.
“This is still a buyer’s market in terms of labor,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, told The New York Times. “For all the good news on unemployment and the number of jobs we’ve created, if these wage numbers are to be believed, employers still have their pick.”
Last month was the 11th straight where more than 200,000 jobs were added, the longest such period since 1994. In addition, new jobs in November were revised upward to 353,000 from its initial total of 321,000.
Economists were divided on how the jobs report would affect interest rates. Strong job growth and employment paint a picture of an improving economy that may spur the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates sooner. But experts also believe that the stalling of wage growth may cause the Fed to exercise patience.