WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy added 250,000 jobs in October, federal economists reported Friday in the government's last labor market snapshot before the midterm elections.
The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7 percent, a 49-year low, and the typical worker's earnings rose by 3.1 percent over the year that ended in October, the biggest leap since 2009. And so far, inflation remains in check. The Federal Reserve's preferred price measure rose 2 percent in September compared with a year earlier, slightly lower than the year-over-year increase in August.
"This is the best labor environment in over a decade," said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US, an international consulting firm.
The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics arrives less than a month after Hurricane Michael pummeled the Florida panhandle and Georgia, knocking some people temporarily out of work and dampening economic activity in the Southeast. Michael's destruction followed Hurricane Florence, which devastated homes and roads in the Carolinas with flooding.
President Donald Trump celebrated the country's rebound from the disasters Friday on Twitter.
"Wow! The U.S. added 250,000 Jobs in October -- and this was despite the hurricanes. Unemployment at 3.7%. Wages UP!" he wrote.
The country now has 7.1 million job openings, a record high, the Labor Department announced Tuesday.
Analysts say America's robust growth streak took off in 2014 and has largely kept pace since. The average number of monthly jobs added from 2015 to 2016 was 211,000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The past two years have maintained that course.
Companies feel pressure to offer higher paychecks at a time when there are more jobs vacant than applicants to fill them, said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at jobs site Glassdoor.
"Average wages are finally starting to pick up, especially for some lower-skilled positions," Chamberlain said. "Maintenance workers, bank tellers, cashiers, cooks -- employers are running out of workers for many of these roles."
Health care, manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing fueled October's particularly strong job growth.
Employment at hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities surged by 36,000 positions.
Manufacturing jobs jumped by 32,000, with the largest gains stemming from goods production. Construction expanded by 30,000 positions, nearly half of which focus on residential homes.
Transportation and warehousing saw gains of 25,000, while leisure and hospitality recovered from September's hurricane slowdown with 42,000 positions.
The number of people working or looking for a job increased by 711,000, nudging the labor force participation rate up to 62.9 percent, from 62.7 percent in September.
The country's jobless rate hit a near half-century low in September. The president has embraced this data point. "Just out: 3.7% Unemployment is the lowest number since 1969!" Trump tweeted on Oct. 5.
Although the unemployment rate has consistently surfed below the levels reached in 2000, at the height of that expansion, wages have been growing at significantly slower rates.
Low wages in many sectors have contributed to financial instability. More than a quarter of Americans don't earn enough to cover basic expenses, while more than a third are unable to pay all their bills on time, according to a report released Thursday by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, a nonprofit funded by the Ford Foundation and several banks. That shortfall has contributed to mounting credit-card debt and loan defaults.
October's report, however, is among several recent signs that wage growth is picking up.
According to a report last week from the research arm of the payroll processing firm ADP, for instance, American workers are earning nearly $1 more per hour on average than they were a year ago.
William Stoller, chairman and chief executive of Express Employment Professionals, which is based in Oklahoma City, said pay in light industrial and administrative jobs, for example, had climbed to $14.50 to $15.50 an hour, from roughly $13.60 a year ago. Most job applicants whom his firm encounters are looking for higher pay and more opportunities to advance.
"What's so impressive to me is there have been more jobs than workers every month since March of this year," said Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. Openings exceeded 7.1 million, according to the government's most recent count.
Some analysts have tied rising pay to legislative moves. Eighteen states have increased their minimum wages this year.
Speaking Thursday at The Washington Post, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said he stands against that kind of policy at a national level. "My view is a federal minimum wage is a terrible idea. A terrible idea," he said, adding that pay restrictions hurt small businesses.
Job growth in the United States slowed considerably in September, largely because of Hurricane Florence's devastating run through the Carolinas. About 313,000 people did not clock in at work in September because of the rough weather, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Service and construction workers are most likely to lose shifts during and after major storms. Pounding rain shutters stores, wrecks roads and delays shipments of building materials.
Business falters amid severe weather, according to a Fed study. It can take months for economic activity to pick back up.
"You can't work on a jobs site if it's underwater," said Robert Frick, corporate economist at the Navy Federal Credit Union in Virginia.
Michelle Girard, chief United States economist at NatWest Markets, said that although some analysts warned of inflation, the pay increase should not bother policymakers at the Fed.
"I don't think it's something the Fed should worry about," she said. "Productivity growth is picking up, and workers should earn more. It doesn't mean companies have to pass on higher wage costs to consumers. They can afford to pay them more."
The Fed, which has increased its key interest rate three times this year from historically low levels, is expected to raise it again to 2.5 percent in December as a hedge against inflation.
Information for this article was contributed by Danielle Paquette of The Washington Post, by Christopher Rugaber of The Associated Press, and by Patricia Cohen of The New York Times.
A Section on 11/03/2018
Print Headline: Employers in U.S. add 250,000 jobs