WASHINGTON (AP) — Hiring was surprisingly weak in January for a second straight month, likely renewing concern that the U.S. economy might be slowing after a strong finish last year.
Employers added 113,000 jobs, the government said Friday, far fewer than the average monthly gain of 194,000 last year. Job gains have averaged just 154,000 the past three months, down from 201,000 in the preceding three.
The sluggish job growth could undermine hopes that economic growth will accelerate this year. But economists also say they expect hiring to return to healthier levels in coming months. They note that solid job gains last month in manufacturing and construction point to underlying strength.
Manufacturers, construction firms and mining and drilling companies added a strong 76,000 jobs combined last month.
"You rarely see expansions in these industries without the economy being in fairly healthy shape," said Gary Burtless, an economist at Brookings Institution.
And more people began looking for work in January, a sign that they were optimistic about finding work. Some of these people found jobs, thereby reducing the unemployment rate to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent in December. That's the lowest rate since October 2008.
Investors seemed pleased by the figures. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 78 points in morning trading.
Soon after the report was released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, investors pulled back from stocks and shifted into safer U.S. bonds, sending bonds yields sharply lower. But then stock futures rose back above the levels where they had traded before the news. And the yield on the 10-year Treasury crept back toward its earlier level.
Cold weather likely held back hiring in December, economists said, though the impact faded in January. Construction firms, which sometimes stop work in bad weather, added 48,000 jobs last month.
Signs of economic weakness in the United States and overseas have sent stock prices sinking. Upheaval in developing countries has further spooked investors.