The first jobs report of 2015 was issued by the Labor Department today, and the news was nearly all positive. The US added 257,000 jobs last month, and previous months were revised up. November’s job totals jumped to 441,000, the highest figure in 17 years. December’s numbers were revised up from 252,000 to 329,000.
Hourly wages also rose in January. Wages jumped 12 cents last month, the highest increase since 2008. Over the last year, wages have increased 2.2%. Part of the gain in January came from minimum wage increases in a number of states. The Federal Reserve is watching wage growth, holding back interest rates until sufficient growth has been achieved.
The unemployment rate rose from 5.6% to 5.7%, but even that figure was viewed in a positive light. More people are looking for work, encouraged for the first time in years by the surging economy. The labor force participation rate increased 62.7% to 62.9%. That figure had been shrinking in recent years.
Most economists believe the recovery is now self sustaining. Lower gas prices are giving consumers more cash in their pockets. In an economy in which 70% of activity is based on consumer spending, that extra money is huge. In the US, lower gas prices act as an economic stimulus.
The US is enjoying the best economic growth it has seen since the 1990s. Most of the uncertainty that plagued the past few years has been lifted. There do not appear to be any government shutdowns or debt defaults on the horizon. With gas prices holding at multi-year lows, the US economy should continue to hum along throughout 2015.