WASHINGTON – Employers boosted payrolls by a respectable 132,000 in November, but the unemployment rate edged up to 4.5 percent as jobseekers streamed into the labor market by the thousands with the approaching holidays.
The tally of new jobs added to the economy last month marked an improvement from the 79,000 new positions generated in October and was the most since September, the Labor Department reported Friday. It mostly a cheerful message at a time of year when shopping peaks.
Although the unemployment rate crept up from a five-year low of 4.4 percent in October, the politically sensitive number pointed, nevertheless, to a labor market that is in good shape despite a slumping housing market and a struggling auto sector.
Thousands of people — encouraged by brightening job prospects — poured into the labor market looking for work last month, a factor that played a role in pushing the overall civilian unemployment up.
The increase in payrolls was stronger than the 105,000 jobs that economists were expecting. Analysts were anticipating a rise in the jobless rate, however.
Workers, many of whom have seen their wages whittled by inflation, saw wages grow modestly last month. Average hourly earnings rose to $16.94 , a 0.2 percent increase from the prior month. Economists were forecasting a slightly bigger rise of 0.3 percent.
Over the last 12 months, wages grew by a strong 4.1 percent.
Growth in wages should support consumer spending — the habit that helps keep the economy afloat. But a rapid and sustained advanced — if not blunted by other economic forces — can raise inflation concerns. That's not good for the economy or workers' pocketbooks because inflation can eat into everybody's buying power.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank is keeping a close watch on wages for any signs of inflation.
The Bush administration insists the economy is fundamentally sound and Americans for the most part are faring well. But Democrats say that the middle class and others have benefited little from the economic expansion over the last five years.
A top priority for the Democratic-controlled Congress, which convenes in January, will be raising the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. That wage has not been increased for nearly 10 years.
Americans' are giving President Bush lower marks for his economic stewardship. The president's approval rating on the economy sank to 38 percent in December, down from 43 percent in November, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
In November, jobs losses in construction and manufacturing were tempered by job gains in retailing, education and health care, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, government and elsewhere.
The job cuts in construction and manufacturing partly reflect the woes of the housing and auto sectors.
Construction companies cut 29,000 positions last month, while factories shed 15,000. Retailers — bulking up for the holiday season — added more than 20,000 new jobs. Education and health services increased employment by 41,000 and financial services added 11,000 slots. Leisure and hospitality boosted jobs by 31,000 and the government by 18,000.
Overall job gains turned out to be slightly lower in October than first reported, while gains for September were higher.