5 takeaways from a stunning January jobs report


Employees in the United States are currently reporting higher levels of dissatisfaction with their jobs, despite the availability of high wages, remote work options, and various benefits and perks. According to Gallup's State of the Global Workforce survey, over half of workers are not engaged and are only doing the bare minimum, while a significant percentage are actively disengaged or leaving their jobs. When asked what changes they would like to see in their workplaces to improve their job satisfaction, respondents primarily mentioned three key areas: engagement and workplace culture, pay and benefits, and overall well-being.

In terms of engagement and culture, employees expressed a desire for greater recognition, approachable management, autonomy, learning opportunities, respect, fair chances for promotions, and clear career progression paths. Regarding pay and benefits, they highlighted the need for salary increases, timely payment, proportional salaries based on qualifications and performance, transportation cost assistance, fully subsidized child care, and special rewards tied to the company's success. When it comes to wellbeing, employees sought improved communication of shifts, reduced overtime, more opportunities for remote work, longer breaks, access to health resources, management's genuine concern for their health and personal life, and spaces for relaxation and socializing with colleagues.

If you are unhappy in your current job, there are several steps you can take to improve your situation. Developing a better relationship with your direct supervisor, scheduling regular one-on-one meetings to discuss career development, and providing anonymous suggestions for improvement through engagement surveys or virtual suggestion boxes are viable options. If these efforts prove ineffective, it might be time to consider finding a new job. In your job search, prioritize companies with progressive management styles and consider seeking insights from current employees to gauge the organization's engagement and culture.

If you are ready to explore new opportunities, The Hill Jobs Board offers a variety of open roles, including a Director of Communications at NACWA, an Account Executive at CloudHesive, and a Relationship Banker at Bank of America, all based in Washington, DC. Each role presents unique requirements and benefits, catering to different skill sets and career aspirations.

The Director of Communications position at NACWA involves serving as the primary media contact, advocating the organization's goals, and collaborating on communication and outreach strategies. The Account Executive role at CloudHesive focuses on driving cloud sales and managing existing accounts, with opportunities for remote work and career development in the tech industry. Additionally, Bank of America is seeking a Relationship Banker to support individual clients with their financial needs, requiring a customer-focused mindset and experience in financial services and sales.

By taking proactive steps to improve your job satisfaction and considering new opportunities, you can work towards a more fulfilling and engaging career experience.  

In January, job growth in the U.S. surpassed expectations, with the economy adding 353,000 jobs and the unemployment rate holding steady at 3.7 percent. Wages also rose, increasing by 0.6 percent to $34.55, which is double the monthly pace of headline inflation. The annual wage growth stands at 4.47 percent, considerably higher than the 3.5 percent growth most economists associate with the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target. These results depict a robust start to the election year, with the economy potentially playing a significant role.

The labor market continues to show strength, defying expectations of cooling under the weight of Fed rate hikes. Upward revisions for November and December further demonstrate that interest rate increases have not weakened the job market. The January job growth is particularly notable in health care, retail, and business services, which policy groups believe will contribute to reducing racial and demographic income inequality.

The strong January labor market performance has prompted market commentators to reconsider anticipated rate cuts by the Fed, with many suggesting that these cuts will be delayed. Additionally, the timing of the "soft landing" and the potential for an economic return to steady growth without a recession or significant increase in unemployment is also being reexamined. These factors have implications for the economic narratives of both President Biden and former President Trump, as they prepare for a likely rematch in the upcoming election.

While Biden focuses on robust job gains, falling inflation, and rising real wages, recent economic data has also led to improvements in Americans' views of the economy. However, questions linger about whether the economy is still on course for regular growth and the implications of premature interest rate cuts.

Despite the strong economic data, Democrats are faced with questions about whether the economy is following its intended path and if a less ambiguous "soft landing" scenario might be more favorable for them. Meanwhile, recession fears seem to be receding further into the distance, with the good news for Democrats being that these fears appear increasingly unwarranted.

The positive economic performance has prompted progressive economists to advocate for interest rate cuts in the hope that central bankers will take heed. Overall, the January jobs report paints a picture of a robust and resilient labor market, challenging previous expectations and bringing with it implications for monetary policy and the upcoming election.  

The January jobs report showed that the U.S. economy continued to crank out new jobs to kick off 2024, confounding expectations of cooling in hiring and pushing forward the Federal Reserve’s anticipated pivot toward lowering interest rates.

The economy created 353,000 new jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly double the amount economists predicted. In addition, the government’s revisions to prior months’ readings showed that hiring was stronger in the second half of 2023 than what had originally been reported.

The data has investors rethinking the timing around Fed rate cuts. Coming into 2024, the bond market had been priced for six rate cuts in 2024, with the first coming in March. But comments from Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday, in which he downplayed the possibility of a March cut, along with the jobs report has investors thinking the first cut will be delayed until May.

“Today’s jobs report has deflated chances of a March rate cut, but it’s much too soon to say the same about May and later in the year,” says Preston Caldwell, Morningstar’s chief U.S. economist. “The jobs numbers have gone from slightly decelerating to slightly accelerating.”

January Jobs Report Key Stats

  • Total nonfarm payrolls increased by 353,000 vs. FactSet consensus forecast of 176,500.
  • The unemployment rate held steady at 3.7% vs. forecasts of 3.8%.
  • Average hourly wages climbed by 0.6% to $34.55, after rising 0.4% in December.

Jobs Report Shows Faster Growth In Hiring

“The latest data paints a much different picture of job growth than we had before,” Caldwell says. “The data now shows three-month growth for nonfarm payroll employment at 2.2% annualized as of January 2024. This is much higher than the [December data] showing 1.3% three-month growth.” He notes that the pace of job growth is also slightly above the 1.7% average annual growth during the pre-pandemic years of 2015-19, which he says can be seen as a benchmark for a “normal” rate.

Monthly Payroll Change

With the January report came routine annual benchmark revisions, which resulted in large changes to estimates of job growth for 2022 and 2023. Under the hood of these revisions, Caldwell notes that the level of employment for March 2023 was revised down, while levels for the end of the year were left unchanged. “This boosted estimated job growth in the second half of 2023,” he says.

Diverging Pictures of Hiring Within the Jobs Report

Caldwell cautions that the picture painted by the nonfarm payroll data is contradicted by other BLS data released Friday. The report consists of two main parts. Nonfarm payroll employment information comes from an establishment survey of firms. A separate survey of households provides the basis for the unemployment rate.

Unemployment Rate

“Nonfarm payroll employment is up 1.9% year over year, yet household employment—adjusted to make an apples-to-apples comparison with the former—is up merely 0.7%,” Caldwell says. “This discrepancy signals that job growth could be a bit weaker in reality than the headline nonfarm payroll figures show.”

With that divergence, “it’s no surprise, given the weak growth in household-measured employment, that unemployment rates are up slightly compared with a year ago,” he says. “Likewise, the latest data also shows labor force participation almost flat versus a year ago, at 62.5% in January 2024 versus 62.4% in January 2023.”

White-Collar Jobs Drive Hiring Growth

The BLS reports that the increase in hiring was led mainly by professional and business services, healthcare, retail trade, and social assistance. Meanwhile, employment fell in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industries.

The acceleration seen in employment growth was largely driven by so-called “white-collar” jobs. “Employment in the information, professional services, and management and administration categories all accelerated sharply in recent months after being flat-to-down earlier in 2023,” Caldwell notes.

Selected Payroll Categories

Three-month increase.

January Report Shows Jump In Wages

In addition to the unexpectedly strong increase in hiring, the report showed a large uptick in wages. For the Fed and some investors, the concern is that hot wage growth will translate into higher inflation, or at least make it more difficult for the central bank to continue bringing inflation down.

However, Caldwell cautioned against reading too much into the wage numbers. “While the January data did show a seemingly alarming uptick in average hourly earnings—a 6.8% month-over-month annualized rate—this data is fairly noisy,” he says. “The year-over-year growth rate remains at 4.5% in January, averaging 4.3% in the last three months. And the latest data from the employment cost index showed a further deceleration in the fourth quarter. Thus, wage growth is highly unlikely to be reaccelerating.”

Monthly Wage Growth

When Will the Fed Cut Rates?

In response to the jobs report, bond traders scaled back their expectations for when the Fed will start cutting rates. According to the CME FedWatch Tool, the odds of the central bank lowering the federal funds rate at its March meeting are now 21.5%, down from 46% a week ago and just shy of 70% at the beginning of January.

“Altogether, today’s numbers confirm the picture painted by fourth-quarter GDP growth that the economy is expanding at a robust pace,” Caldwell says. “Given the hawkish tilt Powell indicated this week, this largely rules out a March rate cut.”

March Fed Rate Cut Expectations

Odds that the Federal Reserve will lower the federal funds rate at its March meeting.

However, bond traders are still leaning toward the Fed cutting rates in May. The central bank is given a 57% chance of lowering the funds rate at its May meeting versus a 29% chance of holding rates steady. Just a month ago, the market was suggesting the Fed would be making its second cut at that meeting.

“It’s premature to be significantly downgrading the odds for rate cuts in May and the rest of this year,” Caldwell says. “The Fed knows employment is a lagging indicator. They don’t want to wait for employment to fall before initiating cutting. By May, progress on inflation will be sufficient by our projections to leave no doubt on the appropriateness of cutting the federal funds rate.”

Friday’s blockbuster employment data turned that narrative upside down.

US companies boosted payrolls in January by 353,000, the most in a year, according to a monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics report. December’s hiring figure also received a hefty upward revision. Taken together, the numbers suggest a reacceleration that is likely to delay any rate cuts for the time being.

“It certainly justifies the Fed staying on hold,” said Kathy Jones, Charles Schwab’s chief fixed-income strategist. “The economy is strong enough to generate a high level of jobs.”

The report, which also contained annual benchmark revisions that adjusted hiring figures up throughout much of 2023, highlights a labor market that’s been instrumental in powering consumer spending and keeping the economy on its expansion path.

Wage growth also surged — average hourly earnings rose 0.6% on the month, or 4.5% from a year earlier — though likely because of weather-related absences when data were collected in mid-January that affected the calculations.

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Bloomberg Surveillance: Tech in Focus and Jobs Report (Podcast)

The survey week corresponded with a stretch of severe winter weather that roiled economic activity across several US regions. It triggered freezing temperatures in Texas, heavy snow in the Midwest, and flash flooding in the Northeast.

While that effect is likely to reverse in the February numbers, the disruption still delays confirmation of a further moderation in wage growth that would give central bankers more confidence that it’s time to start easing monetary policy.

“The labor market remains strong,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters Wednesday after the central bank left interest rates unchanged at two-decade highs. “We think we can and should take advantage of that and be careful as we approach that question of when to begin to dial back restriction.”

Recent high-profile job cuts from companies including United Parcel Service Inc. may signal that demand for workers will cool in the coming months. But even as news of tens of thousands of layoffs grabs everyone’s attention, the overall numbers remain subdued in an economy with more than 150 million workers.

The January job-cuts announcements compiled by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., at 82,300, were still lower than the 102,000 announced a year earlier. There’s also plenty of evidence in other reports, including vacancies and the ADP private payroll data, that employers are still hiring.

For President Joe Biden, who’s trying to convince American voters that the economy is strong heading into the presidential election in November, the numbers will come as welcome news.

Unemployment held at 3.7% for a third straight month, while the participation rate — the share of the population that is working or looking for work — held at 62.5%. Women entering the workforce helped offset a decline in men’s participation.

The jobs report is made up of two surveys — one of businesses and the other of households. This release included an annual update to the establishment survey that produces the payrolls figures. The benchmark revision painted a slightly better picture of monthly job gains in the second half of the year.

What Bloomberg Economics Says...

“The most important part of the January jobs report was the revisions, and they tell us the job market was hotter in the second half of 2023 than was apparent in real time. If that’s accurate, it suggests upward pressure on wage growth will persist, and it will be more challenging for the Fed to cut early this year. We therefore change our base case to a rate cut in May.”

- Anna Wong, Stuart Paul, Eliza Winger and Estelle Ou, economists

The update also included adjustments to the population controls used in the household survey data, which means the participation and unemployment figures aren’t directly comparable to the previous month.

US manufacturers ushered in 2024 with one of the biggest payroll increases since the pandemic-related hiring rush two years earlier, suggesting factory managers are more sanguine about the economy.

Manufacturing employment climbed 23,000 in January, according to the government’s latest jobs report. Looking beyond the November surge after the conclusion of the US autoworkers strike, the pickup in overall factory payrolls was the strongest since October 2022.

Moreover, hiring among US manufacturers last month was fairly broad-based and included higher headcounts at producers of motor vehicles, food, and chemicals.

The Labor Department’s so-called diffusion index of manufacturing payrolls, a measure of the breadth of job gains, climbed to a more than one-year high of 59%.

Makers of chemicals added 6,900 workers in January, the biggest monthly gain in data back to 1990, according to Friday’s report. Payrolls at the nation’s printers rose the most since May 2020.

The snapshot of manufacturing employment follows an Institute for Supply Management report on Thursday that showed a measure of factory activity climbed to a 15-month high, driven by the strongest orders growth since May 2022.

While still in contraction territory, the ISM index suggests the worst is over for the nation’s producers. The latest jobs data only bolster that view.

The surge in average hourly earnings in the January jobs report isn’t what it seems: Bad weather probably reduced the reported length of the average workweek, in turn boosting the hourly earnings calculation.

Earnings rose 0.6% in January, the most since March 2022, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures published Friday. But average weekly hours fell to an almost four-year low of 34.1 from 34.3, likely due to the large number of people who were unable to work as a result of bad weather during the reference week of the survey.

Amid other frequently asked questions, Friday’s jobs report noted “unusually severe weather is more likely to have an impact on average weekly hours than on employment,” and “the impact of severe weather on hours estimates typically, but not always, results in a reduction in average weekly hours.”

Mike McCall, an economist at the BLS, explained via email how a drop in hours in two sectors with lower-than-average hourly earnings — retail trade and leisure and hospitality — impacted the overall figure.

US Employers Add Most Workers in a Year, Wages Jump
WATCH: US nonfarm payrolls surged 353,000 last month following upward revisions to the prior two months. The unemployment rate held at 3.7%. Michael McKee reports.

“Because average hourly earnings are weighted by hours, decreases in hours for these lower-paying industries helped boost the average hourly earnings at the total private level,” McCall said.

That has some analysts skeptical that the jumbo-sized earnings figure will stick.

“You definitely want to take the 0.6% rise in AHE with a large grain of salt,” Omair Sharif, president of Inflation Insights LLC, said in an email to clients after the release, citing the drop in reported hours worked. “I think we may be in store for some revisions to the AHE data when the February report is released.”

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