Hiring in the US slowed last month, as firms struggled to hire workers and continued to grapple with the effects of coronavirus.
Employers hired 199,000 people in December, the second month of slower-than-expected growth.
However, the unemployment rate fell sharply to 3.9 percent, and wages increased, according to the Labor Department.
The mixed data, gathered before Omicron’s full force was felt, comes on the heels of a record year for job growth.
“For the second month in a row, we’re seeing conflicting signals,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “This report appears to reflect the state of play prior to the worst effects of the Omicron variant wreaking havoc on the economy.”
“To get a clearer picture, we’ll have to wait until the next report, which will cover the job market picture in January,” he added.
In 2021, the United States added more than 6.4 million jobs, regaining many of the positions lost during the pandemic’s peak in 2020.
Gains were felt across most industries in December, with leisure and hospitality leading the way.
While total employment is still about 3.6 million lower than it was before the pandemic – and far lower than it would have been if Covid had not struck – many indicators point to a strong economy.
The government reported this week that a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November, indicating increased confidence in the labour market, and that more than 10 million positions remain open.
“I could hire three full-time employees and one part-time employee right away,” Konstantinos Tsoulos, owner of Brothers Bagels in Brooklyn, New York, said.
Due to a staff shortage, he decided to close the shop on Mondays in September. He claims that not a single person has approached him about a job.
“I’ve been in business for nearly 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
The effects of the Omicron variant are expected to complicate the economy’s outlook.
The virus has been blamed for widespread worker absences in recent weeks, causing thousands of flights to be cancelled, major school districts to close, and strains on hospitals, transportation systems, and other businesses.
Mr. Tsoulos stated that his business has survived due to patronage from nearby families. However, he is concerned about the shift to remote work, which has reduced his commuter business and catering orders from offices.
“Everyone predicted that the downtown office buildings would open after Labor Day, but nothing happened. Then they said January, and it’s almost the middle of January “He stated. “They’re talking about June now.”