WASHINGTON (AP) — A second straight month of weak job growth renewed concerns yesterday that the vigor displayed by the American economy late last year may be gone, at least for the moment.
The Labor Department’s monthly employment report showing a tepid gain of 113,000 jobs in January followed December’s puny increase of 75,000 — far below last year’s average monthly gain of 194,000.
Yet the report provided some cause for optimism. Solid hiring last month in manufacturing and construction point to underlying strength.
And in a healthy sign, more Americans began looking for jobs, suggesting they were more hopeful about their prospects. A sizable 115,000 formerly unemployed people also said they found jobs. Their hiring reduced the unemployment rate to a seasonally adjusted 6.6 percent, the lowest in more than five years.
Most economists say they think hiring will strengthen during 2014 as the economy improves further.
Job growth “clearly has downshifted over the past two months,” said Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “But we still believe the economic fundamentals remain strong and ... forecast an acceleration of growth later in the year.”
Janet Yellen will be pressed about jobs and the economy when she testifies to Congress next week in her first public comments since becoming Federal Reserve chair on Feb. 1. Fed officials are scaling back their stimulus for the economy. They’ve also said they would consider raising their benchmark short-term interest rate at some point after the rate falls below 6.5 percent.
But the Fed has not been clear about the timing. With the unemployment rate now close to that threshold, economists think the Fed may update its guidance after its next meeting in March.
Most economists say two weak hiring months won’t lead the Fed to halt its pullback on the stimulus. Fed policymakers will have February’s job report to consider when they next meet in March.