The number of temporary help services jobs in the US fell by 35,000 in December despite total nonfarm employment rising by 223,000, according to seasonally adjusted numbers released today by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Temp jobs totaled 3.04 million in December, and the temporary penetration rate — temp jobs as a percent of total employment — narrowed to 1.98% in December from 2.01% in November.

The number of temporary help services jobs has dropped by 111,000 since July, according to the BLS.

Looking at total employment, notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, up by 67,000; healthcare, up 55,000; construction, up by 28,000; and social assistance, up 20,000.

Total nonfarm employment in the US was more than 153.7 million in December.

“This month’s report highlights the continued strength of the US labor market despite slower economic growth and headline layoffs in the tech sector,” said Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts. “Longer-term, a mild increase in labor force participation is also a positive sign for employers looking to hire.”

The US unemployment rate slipped to 3.5% in December from 3.6% in November. It has remained in a narrow range of 3.5% to 3.7% since March.

Meanwhile, the college-level unemployment rate — which can serve as a proxy for professional employment — fell to 1.9% in December from 2.0% in November.

In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by nine cents, or 0.3%, to $32.82. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 4.6%.

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