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Economic Indicator: Private Sector Employment up 257,000 in January 2012

Some good news on the employment front! The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their January 2012 report on the employment situation showing private sector employment increased 257,000 -- the largest increase since April 2011 (264,000). In addition, private sector employment gains were revised upward by 58,000 in November and 8,000 in December. Over the past 23 months, the private sector has added jobs every month for a total of nearly 3.7 million jobs.

Many industries experience job gains in January. Manufacturing added 50,000 jobs -- the highest since January of 2011 and the second highest total since 1998. Other sectors with net job increases in January included professional and business services (+70,000), leisure and hospitality (+44,000), health care and social assistance (+29,700), and construction (+21,000). Government continued to shed jobs in January (-14,000), but the rate of job loss in the government sector appears to be slowing somewhat.

BLS also reported the unemployment rate dropping to 8.3% from 8.5% in December – a return to its February 2009 level. The unemployment rate for African Americans dropped 2.2 percentage points, to 13.6% -- the lowest level since March 2009. The unemployment rate in January was 1.7 percentage points below the post-recession peak of 10.0% in October 2009.

Certainly we don’t want to be overly optimistic about any one month’s data because these things tend to bounce around. However, this week witnessed several other positive economic reports, including new car sales, and increases in purchasing manager surveys for manufacturing and non-manufacturing. All told, it’s beginning to look like the momentum of late 2011 has carried into early 2012. Much work remains to be done, but we can breathe a bit easier -- if only for the weekend.

Stay tuned next week.

Mark Doms, Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce

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