Jobs Report for November: Here’s What to Watch For

The Labor Department will release the latest hiring and unemployment figures for November at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. The monthly report provides one of the better snapshots of the state of the American economy. Here’s what to watch for:

• After a hefty gain of 250,000 jobs in October, economists expect payroll gains of 190,000 for November.

• Unemployment is expected to remain unchanged at 3.7 percent, continuing a nearly five-decade low.

• Average hourly earnings are expected to rise by 0.2 percent in November, down from the 0.3 percent rise in October.

A Calming Influence

After a week when the stock market suffered from motion sickness and presidential tweets caused trade tensions to flare, a jobs report that meets or exceeds expectations would offer a dose of calm.

By contrast, a weaker result — a gain of 150,000 or under — would do little to soothe anxieties.

“That would reinforce concerns that the economy might be slowing down too much,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

It’s worth remembering, though, that faulty forecasts ahead of the report do not necessarily mean that the labor market has suddenly stalled. Employers have increased payrolls for 97 months in a row, and monthly job gains are still averaging above 200,000 this year.

Regardless of a few warning lights, the economy is still delivering jobs. The unemployment rate has remained under 4 percent for most of the year and the monthly average of new claims for jobless benefits is still near record lows.

Beyond Wall Street

For most Americans, the employment report is not about stock portfolios but wages and available jobs. And prospects for both have been looking up.

Yet, as Martha Gimbel, research director at the job-search site Indeed, pointed out, the “share of the work force working part-time but wanting full-time is still above of where it was before the recession.”

“Even now,” she said, “at this point in the recovery, one of the fastest-growing jobs search terms on Indeed is people looking for ‘full-time work.’”

Ms. Gimbel said sectors that have had a particularly hard time finding workers — such as nursing and retailing — have begun posting more full-time than part-time jobs. “They seem to think they can find the workers they need by offering more full-time jobs.”

An encouraging sign would be a drop in the broadest measure of unemployment, which includes workers who are too discouraged to look for jobs and people with part-time jobs who want full-time work. That rate inched down in October to 7.4 percent, from 7.5 percent the previous month. A further decline would show that a vigorous labor market was extending to the weakest corners of the economy.

The continuing labor shortage has also finally started to benefit workers who were hit hardest during the recession — minimum-wage earners, African Americans, Latinos and Americans with fewer skills and less education. Look to see if the numbers for these groups have improved.

The Federal Reserve

Friday’s report is the last employment report before policymakers at the Federal Reserve meet on Dec. 18 and 19. Most analysts expect the Fed to raise its benchmark interest rate a quarter-point, to a range between 2.25 and 2.5 percent.

But the vertiginous drop in the stock market this week and mounting concerns about escalating tariffs combined with a weak report might cause some members to reconsider.

“It’s going to be a closer call if we have a weak report tomorrow,” Mr. Kelly of J.P. Morgan said. “They may pause just to see that the outlook is not getting worse.”

Still, Mr. Kelly, like most analysts, thinks even a disappointing showing won’t nudge the Fed off course from its plan to raise rates for the fourth time this year.

The Weather

Hurricanes, snowstorms, wildfires. Weather and natural catastrophes have hit various parts of the country in recent months, disrupting lives and businesses and potentially distorting employment estimates.

Hourly workers who were not able to work during the week that businesses were surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics drop out of the statistics. At the same time, workers in hurricane-battered states who had to stay home in the fall may have returned to work last month. If these low-wage and part-time workers have rejoined the government’s count, wage growth could appear weaker.

“Part-timers typically are paid less than full-timers, so when they leave or return to the payroll data in disproportionate numbers, reported average hourly earnings are affected,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, explained in a note to clients.

As always, the Labor Department’s report provides only a partial and temporary glimpse of the economy. The November estimate will be revised twice in the coming months, and the October data will be revised once more.

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