Axios AM Thought Bubble

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February 04, 2022

Good morning. Here's Axios chief economic correspondent Neil Irwin and markets correspondent Emily Peck with what you need to know about today's surprising jobs numbers.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 320 words ... a 1-minute read.

1 big thing: Surprise!

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

After days of doom-and-gloom talk about how bad the January jobs numbers would be due to the Omicron variant, they turned out to be, um, great?

  • Employers added 467,000 jobs last month, despite millions out sick.

Why it matters: It's rare for any jobs numbers to be stunning, but these were. They leave little doubt that this remains a tight job market in which employers are doing everything they can to hold on to their workers.

The big picture: Some of the biggest job gains were in categories that have strong seasonal patterns, normally adding workers in the fall and then cutting those temporary workers in January.

  • But employers, desperate for staff, appear to have held onto those workers in greater numbers than in a normal year.
  • Due to the statistical process of seasonal adjustment, "cutting fewer workers than usual for this time of year" gets translated as "adding lots of jobs."

By the numbers: Leisure and hospitality added 151,000 jobs; retail added 61,000; and transportation and warehousing added 54,000.

Between the lines: The report offered more evidence that this is an exceptionally tight labor market with inflationary pressures brewing, giving the Federal Reserve the green light for interest rate increases.

  • Average hourly earnings rose a robust 0.7%, and are up 5.7% over the last year. Employers are being forced to pay up to fill their job openings.

Yes, but: Omicron really did have an effect. The report said 6 million people were unable to work because their employers were closed or lost business due to the pandemic, up from 3.1 million in December.

What they're saying: "Had the prior relationship between Covid cases and employment held true, 800k daily new Covid cases would have led to 2.3 million job losses," Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecuiter, tweeted. "Instead, we saw 467,000 job GAINS!"

The bottom line: This is an incredibly strong labor market that is poised to strengthen further as Omicron fades.