There was little news in an altogether moderate jobs report for December. Non-farm payrolls added 155,000 jobs in December, coming close to the average monthly net change in 2012 of 153,000. The gains largely came from health care (+45K) and food services and drinking places (+38K). Retail trade and temporary help services both contracted (-11K and -.6K respectively).
61 months after the start of the recessions and most labor market indicators are still well below their peak level. Non-farm employment remains close to 3% below while hours remains 5.4% below and showing signs of slowing down.
The unemployment rate remained at 7.8% showing that the labor market has made little progress since the end of the summer. Participation also remained steady at 63.9% as well as the employment population ratio at 58.6%. There are a few positive signs in the report that suggest improvements in the labor market may be ahead for 2013. The mean duration of unemployment fell from 39.7 weeks to 38.1, marking the biggest monthly decline since the recession began. It is still a far cry from an average of 16.6 weeks at the peak of the cycle, but it is the first signs that the whole distribution of unemployment duration is shifting lower.