Economic Snapshot: Employment gains remain stagnant

Both the unemployment rate and the number of job openings have remained essentially unchanged month-over-month, and yearly gains are starting to flatten.

Employment situation

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 292,000 in December. The number of unemployed persons was 7.9 million and the unemployment rate was unchanged for the third month in a row at 5.0 percent.

Over the past 12 months, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 0.6 percentage points and 800,000, respectively.

The number of long-term unemployed was essentially unchanged at 2.1 million in December and accounted for 26.3 percent of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed has shown little movement since June but was down by 687,000 over the year.

The number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons was little changed at 6.0 million in December but was down by 764,000 over the year. In December, 1.8 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by 427,000 from the previous year. Among the marginally attached, there were 663,000 discouraged workers in December, little changed from a year earlier.


The number of job openings was little changed at 5.4 million on the last business day of November and the job openings rate was 3.7 percent. The number of job openings increased over the 12 months ending in November for total nonfarm and total private, and was little changed for government.

The number of hires was 5.2 million in November, little changed from October and the hires rate was 3.6 percent. Over the 12 months ending in November, the number of hires was little changed for total nonfarm, total private and government.

There were 4.9 million total separations in November, little changed from October and the separations rate was 3.5 percent. Among separations, there were 2.8 million quits and the quits rate was 2.0 percent. The number of quits has held between 2.7 million and 2.8 million for the past 15 months.

NFIB small business optimism

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index gained 0.4 points in December and it now stands at 95.2. The index is currently stuck in a “below average” rut.

Reported job creation faded a bit in December, with the average employment gain per firm falling to a net negative 0.07 workers from 0.1 in November. Fifty-five percent reported hiring or trying to hire, but 48 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. Fifteen percent reported using temporary workers, down 1 point.

Twenty-eight percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up 1 point and the highest level for this expansion. A seasonally adjusted net 15 percent plan to create new jobs, up 4 points.

Expected real sales volumes posted a 9-point gain, rising to a seasonally adjusted net 8 percent of owners expecting gains. This is the best reading in the past 8 months but well below the average 14-point reading in the first four months of 2015.

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