US has best jobs year since 1999: How good is that?

US employers created an estimated 321,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department reported Friday. In fact, employers have added 200,000 or more jobs for 10 straight months.

Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS/File
People wait in line to enter the Nassau County Mega Job Fair at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York in this file photo from October 7, 2014. US employers added the largest number of workers in nearly three years in November and wages increased, which could bring the Federal Reserve closer to raising interest rates.

Finally, US workers are enjoying a 1990s-style year of job gains. Employment is rising at an average clip of 240,000 jobs per month, and the gains have already reached the highest total seen since 1999.

In other words, job creation is not just the best since the financial crisis of 2008; it’s coming close to an era when people were buzzing about a “dotcom boom” in Internet stocks.

US employers created an estimated 321,000 jobs in November, according to new Labor Department numbers released Friday.

That brings jobs created this year to 2.65 million, with the number likely to rise further toward the 3 million mark once December is added in. Already the total this year exceeds any full-year number since 1999, when the economy created 3.18 million jobs.

“Private employment has risen by at least 200,000 for ten consecutive months, the first time that has happened since the 1990s,” Jason Furman, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in written comments on the new data.

For perspective, it’s important to note that a year this strong isn’t actually that remarkable. Historically, it’s not unusual in post-recession recoveries to see job gains exceed 3 million.

Over the past four decades, the economy did that in 1977, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988 and 1994 and for a three-year streak ending in 1999.

What’s remarkable this time is how long Americans have had to wait. Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, the US economy hasn’t posted a year above the 3 million mark, even though the deep slump left a massive hole of job losses to be refilled.

But now, America is approaching that kind of number again.

Consumer confidence has been rising this year, and for the first time since the recession began in 2007, more than 30 percent of Americans are saying that now is “a good time to find a quality job,” according to polling by Gallup.

The recent pickup in job growth has been broad-based, spanning from financial services to manufacturing and construction.

Although slow wage growth has been a persistent feature of the current recovery, another promising sign is that many of the job gains have been in industries that pay above-average wages, such as mining (including energy production) and business services.

The official unemployment rate, now at 5.8 percent, has fallen almost a percentage point since the end of last year.

As a share of the overall workforce, “the economy is adding jobs at a rate of about 2 percent per year, also on pace for the largest percentage increase in any calendar year since the late 1990s,” Mr. Furman said.

If the gains still aren’t as strong as some prior years, the current recovery has at least been notable for its staying power. The 57 consecutive months with any positive job growth is the longest US string on record.

The last time payroll employers added 200,000 or more jobs in at least 10 straight months was in a stretch that ended in early 1995.

The job numbers can be volatile from month to month, and the preliminary estimates end up getting revised up or down. But Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics sees it as likely that the year will close out with average gains of 240,000 per month.

Some of November’s total may turn out to be an overstatement, based on holiday retail hiring.

“More of the typical end-of-year surge in retail hiring may have been moved into November as the kickoff to the holiday shopping season moves earlier, and may set December up for a disappointing number,” economists at Wells Fargo write in an analysis of the Labor Department numbers.

A larger uncertainty is whether the job market momentum will continue in 2015.

Many economists expect 2015 to be a stronger year for the economy – with GDP growth in the neighborhood of 3 percent, versus perhaps 2.2 percent for 2014. But that mainly reflects a pickup compared with 2014’s rocky start, as opposed to a big change compared with the current pace of growth.

Many economists expect the Federal Reserve to begin raising short-term interest rates, now at an unusually low level near zero percent, sometime in 2015. Although this week's job news amplifies that expectation, Fed leaders including Chair Janet Yellen have voiced a desire to promote the central bank's mandate of "full employment" as long as its other mandate, controlling inflation, is being met.

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