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US economy creates robust 227,000 jobs in January; unemployment rate remains low at 4.8 percent

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WASHINGTON — The labor market started the year strong, adding a robust 227,000 net new jobs last month while more people began looking for work, the Labor Department said Friday.

Although the January job growth figure exceeded expectations — and was the best since September — that was somewhat offset by a downward revision of job growth the previous two months by 39,000.

Those changes meant job growth averaged 187,000 for 2016 and that President Trump took office with the job market expanding at a solid pace.

“He’s inheriting a very healthy labor market and a healthy economy,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “Obviously some of his core voters don’t feel that way. But overall the unemployment rate is under 5 percent and jobs have been growing for seven years.”

Before a White House meeting with business executives, Trump said he was “very happy” with the job growth.

“There’s a great spirit in the country right now,” Trump said.

“I think it’s going to continue big-league,” he said. “We’re bringing back jobs. We’re bringing down your taxes. We’re getting rid of your regulations. And I think it’s going to be some really very exciting times ahead.”

The unemployment rate last month inched up a tenth of a percentage point to 4.8 percent, but that wasn’t bad news.

The uptick was largely caused by 584,000 more people looking for work last month after accounting for annual adjustments made to U.S. population figures.

The percentage of working-age Americans in the force increased to 62.9 percent in January. That was the best level since September, though still near a 40-year low.

But wage growth remained a concern. Average hourly earnings were up 3 cents to $26 last month, down from December’s strong 6-cent increase. For the 12 months ended Jan. 31, wages increased 2.5 percent.

The slowdown in wage growth came even though worker pay got a boost last month because minimum wage increases kicked in on Jan. 1 in 19 states, either through automatic cost-of-living bumps or scheduled changes passed by voters or lawmakers.

In California, the minimum wage rose to $10.50 an hour, from $10, as the first step in a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year that is scheduled to boost the wage to $15 by 2020.

“Wages are creeping up. But creep is kind of the operate word there,” Hoffman said. “The good news is more and more people are getting jobs and they’re getting them in better-paying industries.”

Construction and manufacturing are among those industries.

The construction industry had a big jump in hiring in January, adding 36,000 net new jobs compared with just 2,000 the previous month, the Labor Department reported.

But factory payroll growth slowed. Manufacturers added 5,000 net new jobs last month after an 11,000 gain the previous month.

Retailers had a strong month, increasing their payrolls by 46,000. But state governments shed 9,000 net jobs.

The January jobs report was the final one for the Obama administration, though job growth might have been influenced by increased business and consumer confidence after Trump’s election. The data was collected in the middle of last month before Trump took office.

“Obviously many of the metrics we look at measuring sentiment have been on the rise since the election,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at financial information website Bankrate.com.

“On the one hand, you say businesses might not be willing to add workers until they see a rise in demand, but on the other hand they may be making some strategic decisions where they anticipate demand,” he said.

Analysts had expected job gains last month of 175,000, and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 4.7 percent.

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