Job Market Starts 2024 With a Bang

The United States produced an unexpectedly sizable batch of jobs last month, a boon for American workers that shows the labor market retains remarkable strength after three years of expansion.

Employers added 353,000 jobs in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported on Friday, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent.

The report also put an even shinier gloss on job growth for 2023, including revisions that added more than 100,000 to the figure previously tallied for December. All told, employers added 3.1 million jobs last year, more than the 2.7 million initially reported.

After the loss of 14 percent of the nation’s jobs early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the labor market’s endurance despite aggressive interest rate increases has caught economists off guard.

“I think everyone is surprised at the strength,” said Sara Rutledge, an independent economics consultant. “It’s almost like a ‘pinch me’ scenario.”

Ms. Rutledge helped tabulate the National Association for Business Economics’ latest member survey, which found rising optimism that the country would avoid a recession — matching a turnaround in measures of consumer sentiment as inflation has eased.

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