The US added 227,000 new jobs in January, the last month of the Obama presidency and the first of Donald Trump’s, the Department of Labor announced on Friday.
The closely watched figure was the best since last September and comes after Trump won the election promising jobs growth and pushing US companies to employ American citizens, threatening to tax imports of goods made outside US borders.
However, the report also highlights the struggle ahead for Trump and underlines Obama’s record on job creation. January marked the 76th consecutive month of job gains, the best on record. And the unemployment rate, at 4.8%, is in line with the Federal Reserve’s estimate for a normal job market.
Trump was a harsh critic of the government’s monthly job’s report during the election campaign. He claimed that 5% unemployment was “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” In August 2015, Trump told Time magazine that the real unemployment rate was 42%, at the time the Labor Department reading was 5.1%.
The latest report highlighted continued weakness in wage growth, which slowed to an annualized rate of 2.5% in January, down from 2.9% the month earlier. Wages have lagged behind as unemployment has fallen in part because service sector and other less well paid jobs have dominated jobs growth. Retail was the fastest growing sector in January, adding 46,000 positions and ahead of construction which added 36,0000.
PNC Bank’s deputy chief economist Gus Faucher said the slight rise in the unemployment rate from 4.7% to 4.8% was triggered by more people looking for work. The labor force participation rate – which measures the percentage of the population employed or actively looking for work – rose marginally in January to 62.9%.
Faucher said it would be months before the jobs figures reflected the impact of Trump’s presidency. “It’s too soon to say what impact the Trump administration has had on the job market. The survey was taken before the presidential inauguration, and the numbers are volatile and subject to revision. We will have a better sense of how the job market has responded to President Trump by the middle of 2017,” he said.
The latest government statistics follow a strong report from payroll processor ADP. The company said on Wednesday that private businesses had added 246,000 jobs last month, up from 151,000 in December and the highest number of new jobs since June last year.