2017 was a pretty good year to get a job in America. It was another mediocre year for wage growth. And unemployment keeps limbo-ing lower.
We’ll get the full story on Friday: The Labor Department publishes the December jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here are four things to watch:
1. Job growth strong but slowing
Through November, the country added 1.9 million jobs. Economists forecast a gain of 190,000 more in December.
That’s a strong pace, but not as strong as previous years. In 2016, the economy added nearly 2.1 million over the first 11 months. In 2015, nearly 2.5 million jobs. In 2014, 2.7 million.
Declining job growth makes sense after more than seven years of interrupted gains. As unemployment ticks down, job growth gradually slows.
2. Wages could finally pick up
Economists expect that wages rose 2.5% in December compared with a year earlier. That’s sluggish with unemployment so low, and well below the Federal Reserve’s target of 3.5%. But other measures show wage growth could be surprisingly higher — if not in December, then likely this year.
The share of small businesses that plan to pay workers more in the next three to six months is at its highest in 17 years — 23%, according to a report published Thursday by the National Federation of Independent Business. The report covers businesses with 500 or fewer employees.
What’s more, the number of employers saying they found no qualified job applicants, or few of them, is at an all-time high, 54%, according to NFIB’s December report.
When employers struggle to find new workers, they have to pay up to lure them from other jobs or to retain the workers they already have.
3. ‘I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created’
The first full month under Trump’s watch was February. From February through November, the economy added 1.7 million jobs. During President Obama’s final 10 months, the country added 1.86 million jobs.
Presidents have limited control over job growth. Government policy can boost the economy or help save it from disaster. But many other factors, such as the value of the U.S. dollar, the length of an economic expansion or even the weather, matter more.
4. Take a step back and things look really good
The American economy is entering 2018 on a solid foundation. This is the third-longest economic expansion in U.S. history, behind only those in the 1960s and 1990s.
Consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates. Home prices are rising. American exports increased last year. The share of Americans planning to take a vacation soon is at its highest level in decades. And the stock market is on a tear.
Not only has job growth been consistent for seven straight years but the gains have been across the economy. Health care, retail, education, financial services and even manufacturing have all added a healthy number of jobs since 2010.