JOB GROWTH: The economy added 178,000 jobs in November. Over the past 12-month period, job gains have averaged 180,000 per month.

TOP INDUSTRIES: In November, employment continued to trend up in both the healthcare and professional and business services sectors, which have together added one million jobs in the past 12 months. The biggest gains in the business sector came from administrative and support services (+36,000) and accounting and bookkeeping services (+18,000).

UNEMPLOYMENT: Registering its most significant change in more than a year, the

unemployment rate declined to 4.6 percent in November. The number of unemployed declined by 387,000 to 7.4 million, although overall labor force participation remains low.

WAGES: Average hourly earnings declined slightly in November, bringing the annual average increase to 2.5 percent.

WORK WEEK: The average work week remained at 34.4 hours, unchanged since September.

TEMPORARY JOB TRENDS: The temporary staffing sector recorded a good bump in November, adding 14,300 jobs, and sustaining a three-month upward trend.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? The big news this past month was the unemployment rate drop to 4.6 percent, a level consistent with economists’ definition of full employment, offering impetus for the Fed’s anticipated boost to short-term interest rates later this month. Despite these signs of a strengthening economy, labor force participation, at 62.7 percent, remains at near-historically low levels. There continue to be large numbers of people sitting on the sidelines. The big question is why. Whether the answer lies in a skills gap, a pay gap or some other reason, the reality mutes the good news of low unemployment and steady job growth. Fewer people in the job market also signals continuing challenges to employers in their efforts to hire and retain talent.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Steinberg Employment Research, Bloomberg, USA Today, CNNMoney, Staffing Industry Analysts, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times

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