Economy gained just 20,000 jobs in February, but wages are rising

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March 8, 2019, 1:35 PM GMT / Updated March 8, 2019, 3:33 PM GMT

By Lucy Bayly

The economy gained a meager 20,000 jobs in February, falling far short of analyst expectations of 185,000 and indicating that the nation’s 10-year economic expansion has potentially hit a speed bump.

Despite the stalled job growth, the rest of the monthly employment data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was positive. The February unemployment rate ticked down to 3.8 percent, after spiking last month due to temporary layoffs from the 35-day partial government shutdown, and hourly wage growth increased by 0.4 percent, the best since 2009.

February’s job gains are the lowest since September 2017, but the numbers for December and January were revised upwards, adding a total of 12,000 more jobs. December was revised from 222,000 to 227,000 and January’s blockbuster figure of 304,000 was raised to 311,000 jobs.

When asked about the newly released numbers, President Donald Trump focused on wage growth.

“Wages are going up, first time for many years,” Trump told reporters on Friday just before taking off for Alabama to tour tornado damage. “The economy is very, very strong.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow dismissed the low job growth number as a statistical quirk, blaming the timing of the government shutdown and “winter, seasonal issues.”

“I think it’s a very fluky number,” Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Friday. “Very fluky. I wouldn’t pay any attention to it, to be honest with you.”

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures tumbled by more than 200 points immediately after the data was released.

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Companies are continuing a robust hiring pace as improved economic conditions and higher wages are bringing people off the sidelines and back to work, especially older Americans and women.

However, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book, which measures economic conditions across the country and helps the Fed set its benchmark lending rates, many companies are having trouble finding qualified workers.

“Slowing job growth is to be expected over the coming year, one way or the other,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “The Fed sees growth for the full year at 2.3 percent, down from around 3 percent in 2018. The average among economists surveyed by suggests 166,000 jobs will be added, on average, per month over the next year.”

David K. Li contributed.

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