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UPDATED: January 10, 2020

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

December’s numbers came in under expectations, but experts were still largely optimistic about the state of the market going into 2020.

Below are the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports on “The Employment Situation” — the bureau’s term of art for the monthly jobs report.

Each report provides data on the month prior (so September’s report covers August numbers, for example), and numbers are regularly adjusted in future reports. Unadjusted numbers are noted in the text.

Unemployment rate
Percentage of workers who are jobless despite “ability” to work. Latest numbers are unadjusted.
Kathryn Moody/HR Dive, data from BLS
Jobs added
Total of non-farm jobs added to the U.S. market. Latest numbers are unadjusted.
Kathryn Moody/HR Dive, data from BLS
  • December 2019
    3.5% unemployment rate
    145,000 jobs added

    December 2019 added 145,000 jobs, coming in under expectations, various media reports said. Economists expected the market to gain 160,000 jobs, while ADP said in its monthly National Employment Report -- one that is usually in line with BLS releases -- that December gained 202,000 jobs. Unemployment remains at 3.5%.

    December’s numbers cap 10 straight years of job gains -- the longest stretch in 80 years of measurements, The Wall Street Journal reported. Wage growth remains low, however, at 2.9% over the last 12 months.

    “Wage growth, meanwhile, has slowed for much of the year, providing further evidence that we are not yet at genuine full employment,” Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement. Overall, the job market is set to enter 2020 at “a solid pace,” CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky said in a statement, especially as workers continue to relocate and feel confident in their ability to land jobs.

    Released Jan. 10, 2020

  • November 2019
    3.5% unemployment rate
    266,000 jobs added

    266,000 jobs were added in November, according to BLS, smashing economists’ expectations. Analysts expected only around 180,000 jobs gained, prompting experts to proclaim the continued strength of the U.S. economy. Unemployment dropped back down to 3.5%. Numbers are unadjusted.

    “Robust employment growth, coupled with yearly wage increases and historic lows in unemployment rates, are positive signs for our economy,” Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Businesses, said in a media statement. Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, told The New York Times the report was “a real blockbuster.”

    The report also may reflect the return of striking General Motors workers to their jobs. Manufacturing jobs rose by 54,000, making up some losses from the month before. Views were more mixed on wages, however, as the rate remained at 3.1% growth year-over-year.

    Released Dec. 6, 2019

  • October 2019
    3.6% unemployment rate
    156,000 jobs added

    Unemployment inched up slightly to 3.6% in October. Job gains were led by “food services and drinking places,” which added 48,000 jobs in the month, due in part to the arrival of the holiday season. Manufacturing, however, posted another consecutive month of job losses, potentially attributable to the automotive sector. That sector has seen large job losses which could have reflected strike activity, BLS noted.

    October saw better-than-expected numbers, with a total of 156,000 additional jobs.

    Released Nov. 1, 2019

  • September 2019
    3.5% unemployment rate
    180,000 jobs added

    The unemployment rate dropped in September to a record low of 3.5%, with 180,000 jobs gained after regular adjustments. Industry job growth was up overall in September, most notably in healthcare, according to BLS. Hourly wages remained steady, as did the labor force participation rate at 63.2%.

    The biggest concerns for experts surrounded the lack of wage growth, though some noted it could be a sign that employers are relying more on contingent workers, who face a different wage calculation compared to employees. “Businesses are starting to think about work in a fundamentally different way and becoming more focused on filling a skill need, not just a job,” Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Businesses, said in a media statement.

    Released Oct. 4, 2019