WASHINGTON – The U.S. job market sprung back last month from a hurricane-induced slowdown as nonfarm employers added 215,000 workers, according to a government report on Friday that showed the economy on solid ground.
In its monthly employment report, the Labor Department also said the unemployment rate held steady in November at 5 percent.
"This fits with an economy which is just humming along here at close to potential," said Kathleen Stephansen, director of global economics at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York.
The report nearly matched expectations in financial markets, which showed little reaction. Wall Street economists had expected payrolls to expand by 210,000 workers in November, with no change in the jobless rate.
Economists said the picture the report offered of the economy was consistent with expectations the Federal Reserve would bump interest rates up further at upcoming meetings later this month and in January.
"It leaves the Fed right on course," said Steven Wieting, senior economist at Citigroup in New York. "There's really nothing here to dissuade them from bringing rates up to at least neutral levels" that neither spur nor inhibit growth.
The Fed has raised benchmark overnight rates 12 times over the past 17 months, bringing them to 4 percent from a basement level 1 percent.
The jobs report was the latest in a string of data that economists said underscored the resilience of the economy.
"Despite the disruptions of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, economic activity appears to be expanding at a reasonably good pace as we head into 2006," Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said in taped remarks to a conference in Philadelphia.
While the November employment gains were robust and widespread across industries, the report showed the job market has yet to fully recoup the ground lost since a series of hurricanes battered the U.S. Gulf Coast in late summer.
The department revised up its measure of employment for hurricane-ravaged September, saying payrolls expanded by 17,000 workers. Previously, it had reported they had shrunk 8,000.
However, job growth in October was a bit weaker than first thought as employers brought on only 44,000 new workers, not the 56,000 the department had reported a month ago.
Over the past three months, job growth has averaged just 92,000 a month, well below the 196,000 average for the first eight months of the year.
"The employment total is more or less fine but other indications were on the soft side," said Pierre Ellis, senior economist at Decision Economics in New York.
One weak spot was a decline in the length of the average workweek, which dipped to 33.7 hours from 33.8 hours in October.
Average hourly earnings rose 3 cents to $16.32 in November, building on an upwardly revised 10-cent gain in October.
While the latest data suggested October's pay spike was an aberration, the year-on-year earnings increase moved up to 3.2 percent, the biggest 12-month rise since March 2003.
Manufacturers added 11,000 workers in November after adding 15,000 in October to mark the first back-to-back gains in factory employment in more than a year.
Construction firms added 37,000 new workers last month after adding 35,000 in October.
"Some of the recent job gains in construction reflect rebuilding and clean-up efforts following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma," Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Kathleen Utgoff said in a statement.