WASHINGTON -- The nation's employers delivered a stunning burst of hiring to begin 2024, adding 353,000 jobs in January in the latest sign of the economy's continuing ability to shrug off the highest interest rates in two decades.
Friday's report from the Labor Department showed that last month's job gain topped the 333,000 that were added in December, a figure that was itself revised sharply higher. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7%, just off a half-century low.
The latest gains far exceeded expectations and showcased employers' willingness to keep hiring to meet steady consumer spending. It comes as the intensifying presidential campaign is pivoting in no small part on views of President Joe Biden's economic stewardship. Public polls show widespread dissatisfaction largely because even though inflation has sharply slowed, most prices remain well above pre-pandemic levels. Some recent surveys, though, show public approval gradually improving.
This week, the Federal Reserve took note of the economy's durability, with Chair Jerome Powell saying "the economy is performing well, the labor market remains strong." The Fed made clear that while it's nearing a long-awaited shift toward cutting interest rates, it's in no hurry to do so.
To fight inflation, the Fed raised its benchmark rate 11 times beginning in March 2022. The higher borrowing costs were widely expected to boost unemployment and likely cause a recession. Yet the economy has managed to produce enough job growth to avoid a recession yet not so much as to accelerate inflation pressures.
This is a developing story.