NFP : 5 Things to Watch in the February Jobs Report

nfp jobs reportFebruary’s jobs report will be a test for whether the labor market can continue its impressive growth streak even in the face of global turmoil and icy conditions in parts of the country. The Labor Department releases the latest employment gauge at 8:30 a.m. ET on Friday. Economists forecast employers added 240,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 5.6% from January’s 5.7%. Here are five things to watch.

1 Tracking Trends

The U.S. economy added an average of 267,000 jobs each month over the past year. Hiring from November through January was even stronger, with employers adding jobs at the best three-month pace since the late 1990s. Economists expect hiring to ease somewhat from those lofty levels, but February could mark the 12th straight month of jobs gains above 200,000.

2 Watching Wages

With steady job creation and the unemployment rate well down from a year earlier, many observers are expecting wage growth to pick up. January’s average hourly earnings advanced 2.2% from a year earlier. That was an improvement from December’s 1.9% gain, but still modest by historical standards. Wages grew at a better than 3% rate annually during the prior economic recovery that ended in 2007.

3 Weather Effect

Winter weather disrupted a broad swath of the country in February. New England spent the month digging out from a series of snow storms and Chicago recorded the coldest February since 1875, according to the National Weather Service. That may have curtailed hiring in weather-sensitive industries, such as construction. The weather could have also depressed average hours worked per week because snow and school closures prevented some workers from reporting to their normal shifts.

4 Participation Progress

Participation in the labor force perked up somewhat in January, rising to 62.9% from 62.7% in December. Still, the reading is near the lowest level since the 1970s. Economists will monitor the labor-force participation rate for signs that increased hiring is drawing more Americans back into the jobs market.

5 Industry Breakdown

Which industries add jobs in February will help influence other measures such as wage growth. Hiring has picked up in manufacturing and construction in recent months, two fields that tend to pay better rates than many service-sector jobs. Meanwhile, employment in mining and logging slipped in January due to a slowdown in oil drilling, and may have eased further in February.

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