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Health care leads as economy adds 155K jobs, unemployment rate steady at 7.8 percent

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Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 8:38 a.m.
 

Health care jobs are boosting America's labor market as the economy struggles with stubbornly high unemployment, which for the first time since the recession is affecting women more than men.

Employers created 45,000 health care jobs across the country in December alone, the most of any industry, the Labor Department said on Friday. The monthly gain brought the total for the year to 338,000 new health care jobs.

“Health care employment continues to be one of the largest segments of job growth,” said Norman Robertson, economic adviser for Smithfield Trust Co., a Downtown investment company.

As with the nation, health care employment is an important component of Pittsburgh's economy. More than 160,000 people held health care jobs in the seven-county Pittsburgh region in November, accounting for 14 percent of the region's nonfarm jobs, according to state figures.

Other sectors of the nation's labor market grew last month, the labor report showed, although not enough to reduce the jobless rate.

Restaurants and bars added 38,000 jobs in December; construction companies, 30,000, the most in 15 months; and manufacturers, 25,000, their biggest monthly gain since March.

The gains led to an increase of 155,000 nonfarm jobs in December, a figure in line with economists' expectations. All of the job gains arose from private employers.

For the year, the employer survey showed 1.84 million jobs created, an average of 153,000 a month, roughly matching the job growth totals for 2011.

The December jobs growth showed that wrangling in Washington over the tax relief law did not discourage employers.

“The good news is that all these negotiations over the ‘fiscal cliff' didn't seem to have a negative impact on hiring,” Robertson said. “Employers weren't panicking.”

The report showed December's unemployment rate held at 7.8 percent. The Labor Department revised November's unemployment rate up a tenth of a percentage point from the originally reported 7.7 percent.

In all, “it's a good report, not a great report,” said Gus Faucher, senior economist for PNC Bank, Downtown.

Although the jobs numbers are from a survey of employers, the Labor Department calculates the unemployment rate from a survey of households. It showed the number of unemployed people rose by 164,000, to 12.2 million.

Governments shed 13,000 jobs last month, mostly in school systems.

For the first time since the recession began, the unemployment rate for adult women surpassed that for adult men.

The jobless rate for women 20 years and older rose to 7.3 percent in December, from 7 percent the month before. The rate for men of the same age remained at 7.2 percent.

The cuts in government jobs, particularly teaching, appeared to be the culprit. Women occupy about two-thirds of public sector jobs, according to Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center.

“Women are really bearing the brunt of it,” she said.

More government cuts could be made.

The government must increase its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by late February or risk defaulting on its debt, and Republicans likely will demand deep spending cuts as the price of raising the debt limit.

“Unless we're lucky, that is going to be a very bitter battle once again,” Robertson said. “So I don't think we're out of the woods at all in terms of the outlook for fiscal policy.”

Still, the economy is improving. Layoffs declined, and the number of people who sought unemployment aid in the past month neared a four-year low.

The jobs report showed that hourly pay stayed slightly ahead of inflation, rising 7 cents to $23.73, a 2.1 percent increase compared with a year earlier. Inflation rose 1.8 percent over that period.

The once-depressed housing market is recovering.

“We do think that the economy's fundamentals are gradually improving, and look for faster growth later in the year,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight.

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report. Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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