WASHINGTON – Payrolls in the U.S. rose less than projected in January as retailers cut back after the holidays and government hiring fell. The unemployment rate unexpectedly declined to 6.6 percent.
The 113,000 gain in employment followed a revised 75,000 increase the prior month, Labor Department figures showed Friday in Washington. The median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey called for a 180,000 advance. The unemployment rate dropped to the lowest level since October 2008 even as more Americans entered the labor force.
Retailers and government agencies cut payrolls by the most in more than a year, while construction firms and manufacturers boosted employment. Broad-based improvement in job growth is needed to help generate bigger wage gains and spur the consumer spending that accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy.
“We’re making progress but the progress is still slow,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Conn., said before the report. On many fronts, “the labor market isn’t performing in a way that is satisfactory. We’ve had decent job growth but not a sustained period of strong job growth.”
Stock-index futures erased gains after the report, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring next month falling 0.3 percent to, 1,761 at 8:33 a.m. in New York.
Friday’s report showed 262,000 Americans were not at work because of inclement weather in January, little changed from the same month last year, suggesting conditions played a more limited role than in December. In the Jan. 10 release of the prior month’s data, the Labor Department had said poor weather kept 273,000 people from work, the most for any December since 1977.
More than half the gain in January employment came from the construction and manufacturing industries, while payrolls among service-producers slowed.