Unemployment Rate Rises Slightly to 3.9 Percent as 312,000 Jobs are Added

The strong economy continues, but there are warning signs of a potential slowdown – among them: China, Brexit, tariffs and impeachment. Here’s the latest jobs report, with executive search consultants Mike Silverstein from Direct Recruiters and Scott Whipkey from Ascend Executive Search weighing in.

January 4, 2019 – Employers added 312,000 jobs last month as the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 3.9 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released this morning. Wall Street analysts had expected an increase of about 220,000. The December gain is the 99th consecutive month of job growth. Overall, the economy created 2.6 million jobs last year compared to 2.2 million in 2017.

The number of unemployed people currently stands at 6.7 million.

“We’re seeing two different economic realities right now,” said Martha Gimbel, research director for the Hiring Lab at Indeed, told the Washington Post. “One is the stock market, which is going through something, and the other is the labor market, which has been chugging along.”

Where Job Growth Occurred

  • Employment in healthcare rose by 50,000 in December. Within the industry, job gains occurred in ambulatory healthcare services (+38,000) and hospitals (+7,000). Healthcare added 346,000 jobs in 2018, more than the gain of 284,000 jobs in 2017.
  • In December, employment in food services and drinking places increased by 41,000. Over the year, the industry added 235,000 jobs, similar to the increase in 2017 (+261,000).
  • Construction employment rose by 38,000 in December, with job gains in heavy and civil engineering construction (+16,000) and nonresidential specialty trade construction (+16,000). The construction industry added 280,000 jobs in 2018, compared with an increase of 250,000 in 2017.
  • Manufacturing added 32,000 jobs in December. Most of the gain occurred in the durable goods component (+19,000), with job growth in fabricated metal products (+7,000) and in computer and electronic products (+4,000). Employment in the nondurable goods component also increased over the month (+13,000). Manufacturing employment increased by 284,000 over the year, with about three fourths of the gain in durable goods industries. Manufacturing had added 207,000 jobs in 2017.

The Global Recruiting Sector is in Growth Mode, But Challenges Loom
Executive recruiters around the world have seen an upswing in business, but talent shortages and demographic changes pose tough obstacles. Here’s how Frank Schelstraete, chairman of InterSearch, thinks recruiters can stay ahead in 2019.


  • In December, employment in retail trade rose by 24,000. Job growth occurred in general merchandise stores (+15,000) and automobile dealers (+6,000). These gains were partially offset by a job loss in sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores (-9,000). Retail trade employment increased by 92,000 in 2018, after little net change in 2017 (-29,000).
  • Over the month, employment in professional and business services continued to trend up (+43,000). The industry added 583,000 jobs in 2018, outpacing the 458,000 jobs added in 2017.

Related: Confidence in Economy Resulting in Bullish Hiring Projections

  • Employment in other major industries, including mining, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government, showed little change over the month.

Search Consultant Weigh In

“Despite the roller coaster in the market over the past few months, we saw a tremendous uptick in demand for talent in 2018 and all of our key indicators point towards that continuing in 2019 and even beyond,” said Mike Silverstein, managing partner of healthcare IT and life sciences at Direct Recruiters, Inc.

“The economy is continuing to experience a metamorphosis driven by technology and the desire to attack societal challenges using tools that have not previously existed. As a result, the types of skills that are in demand continue to evolve (limitless demand for software development and technology talent); however there is also an ongoing need for a ‘customer facing’ skill that also has technical acumen,” he said.

“People are still making buying decisions and they still value dealing with other people when making those decisions,” Mr. Silverstein said. “Skilled sales, marketing, professional services and customer support talent will be in demand for the foreseeable future. Folks that have these skills will continue to be able to be picky as there is more demand for this talent than there is supply – primarily because of the aging and retiring workforce and the emergence of thousands of new technologies over the last 10+ years of economic growth.”

Related: Economic Climate Creating Challenges for Recruiters

Industries like healthcare, he noted, “will continue to feel an uptick because of macro changes and shifts in our societal structure and our need to adapt as a society to those changes.” He said that investors and CEOs he works with continue to be bullish with their growth plans in 2019.

“It’s a new economy and a new game,” said Scott Whipkey, CEO of Ascend Executive Search. “At Ascend, our placements, retained searches, confidential searches, and inbound client calls are way up. It’s a great time to be in the executive search business. But for businesses, the booming economy and historically low unemployment means slim pickings for top talent.”

“Active candidates are in short supply (and often found lacking), and passive candidates ignore the onslaught of inapt messages, calls, and emails,” he said. “AI programs and online postings help generate volume, but ultimately hinder HR’s ability to land top talent.”

Related: Jobs Report Points to Potential Uncertainty Ahead

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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