U.S. Jobs: 2020 Kicks Off On a (Somewhat) Positive Note

A construction mini-boom boosted January's jobs numbers.

After a less-than-stellar month to close out 2019, 2020 jobs added for January jumped back to a much more typical (and closer-to-long-term average) of 225,000. This was in part due to much higher than usual job growth of 44,000 jobs in construction. Highly unusual for any January, this jump is being attributed to warmer weather than usual and a resurgence in both residential and non-residential construction.


Other big gainers included healthcare, and transportation and warehousing. 2019's monthly average ended up at 175,000 jobs per month, following slight upward revisions for November and December (7,000 higher than previously reported when combined).


Where Job Growth Showed Itself in January


The 44,000 construction jobs added in January also shows the impact of lower interest rates, with 18,000 residential building jobs added alongside 17,000 non-residential ones. Compared to the 2019 average of 12,000 jobs per month, and you've got a near-quadrupling (367 percent) showing a massive and probably one-off spike.


Other gainers including healthcare, which added 36,000 jobs in January, against a monthly average of just over 30,000 jobs for 2019 (this is a 20 percent spike, but nothing like what slammed construction). Transportation and warehousing also took a noticeable jump, with 28,000 jobs added in January.


The 2019 monthly average was nearly 9,000, which makes January a spike that no doubt reflects the building materials involved in the construction jump at just over triple (315 percent) that number.


Other upward-moving sectors in January included leisure and hospitality, up by 36,000 jobs, along with professional and business services, up by 21,000 jobs. Leisure and hospitality is up by 150 percent over the 2019 average, while professional and business services was down by around 26 percent from its 2019 monthly figure.


Manufacturing was down slightly, dipping by 12,000 jobs in January. The other remaining sectors — mining, wholesale trade, retail trade, information, financial activities, and government — continue their longstanding trend of "little or no change."


Wages and Unemployment


Wages continued their modest but ongoing growth, up by $0.07 an hour to an average hourly wage of $28.44. Over the past 12-month period, wage growth clocks in at 3.1 percent (inflation for 2019 ended up at 2.3 percent for the year, the biggest gain in that index since 2011).


That means real wage growth remains pretty anemic, at under 1 percent adjusted for inflation. Unemployment got a one-tenth percentage point increase in January, at 3.6 percent. That's still close to the historic low of 3.5 percent it enjoyed for several months at the end of 2019.


CompTIA's Take on January Information Sector Job Growth


Tech employment showed some hopeful growth in January.

CompTIA's press release on the January job numbers is a little more bullish than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' assessment as "basically flat." They estimate 15,800 jobs added in various IT positions for January, mostly in data processing, hosting and related services (+5,300 jobs) and in IT and software services/computer systems design (+8,800 jobs).


At the same time, employer job postings for IT positions are also up by a reasonably hefty 52,000 or so, in which software and app developer jobs lead that charge with 115,000+ postings. Also on an upward trend: IT user support specialists (+32,000 or so), systems engineers and architects (just over +25,000), systems analysts (+23,500) and IT project managers (+21,300).


Major metro areas continue to be where those jobs are opening up, with NYC, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco at the top of that heap.


What's It All Mean?


The January number is a nice positive sign of decent but not staggering economic growth. It's in line with the period from 2015-2018, and indicates that the economy looks poised to continue steady but not heady expansion. I'll position that as a form of good news, and assert that 2020 is off to a good start. A better start, in fact, than I'd expected. Cheers!


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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.