While overall employment gains were slightly disappointing in December, there were strong job increases in the retail, hospitality and leisure services industries as employers looked to boost payrolls during the peak holiday season.
The government reported Friday that payrolls increased by 145,000, falling short of the 160,000 estimate economists polled by Dow Jones had forecast. The unemployment rate held steady at a low 3.5%, matching a 2019 level that at the time was the lowest since 1969.
CNBC studied the net changes by industry for December jobs based on data from the Labor Department contained in the employment report.
The retail and hospitality industries showed the strongest hiring numbers at the end of the holiday season, with each adding more than 40,000 net positions in December.
But some, like Eric Winograd, senior economist at AllianceBernstein, cautioned against reading too much into the stronger-than-usual retail numbers and instead focused on 2019 as a whole.
“To the extent that there is any weakness in hiring, it is concentrated in manufacturing, which continues to suffer from the trade war, and retail, which continues to suffer from the transition to online shopping,” Winograd wrote in an emailed statement.
“In terms of hiring, 145k is the lowest print in a few months, but it comes on the heels of extremely strong hiring in November,” he added. “Over any reasonable time frame, the labor market is still very strong, more than sufficient to absorb new entrants to the labor force and to support robust consumption.”
Continued strength in health care, too, further cemented its place as an employment juggernaut in the United States for the foreseeable future, thanks to changing demographics and advances in medical technology. The health care and social assistance subsector (including child day care and family services) alone saw a net gain of 33,900 jobs after last month’s hefty 63,800 jobs.
Something similar could be said of the manufacturing sector, which over the course of last year netted only 46,000 jobs after surging by 264,000 in 2018. The marked deceleration in the industry was capped by a net loss of 12,000 jobs in the final month of the year.
“Notable employment gains occurred in retail trade and health care, while mining lost jobs. In 2019, payroll employment growth totaled 2.1 million, compared with a gain of 2.7 million in 2018,” the government said in a press release.
“Employment in retail trade increased by 41,000, with job gains in clothing and accessories stores (+33,000) and in building material and garden supply stores (+7,000). For both industries, the December increase followed a decline in November. In 2019, retail trade employment changed little on net (+9,000), the second year of little employment change in the industry,” the Labor Department added.
Transportation and warehousing also posted a net loss for the month of December with a decline of 10,000. Like manufacturing, transportation and warehousing last year added only about 25% of its 2018 gain, up 57,000 versus 216,000 two years ago.