January 17, 2020 2:00 PM, EST

Employers Post Fewer Jobs in November

Industrial Production Fell, Housing Construction Rose in December
Employment signLynne Sladky/AP

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WASHINGTON — The number of available jobs fell sharply in November, dropping to 6.8 million, a decline of 7.6% from the October level.

The Labor Department reported Jan. 17 that the job openings number for November was down by 561,000 from the October level of 7.36 million.

Some economists took the big decline as a sign that the labor market may be slowing after strong job growth over the past few years has pushed the unemployment rate down to the lowest level in a half-century.

“The labor market may be starting to lose its shine as companies have scaled back their hiring in the face of continued economic uncertainty in this longest economic expansion in history,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG in New York.

The report on job openings was for November. The government’s more current unemployment report for December, released last week, showed that employers created 145,000 jobs last month. That was a decline from a robust increase of 256,000 jobs in November.

For all of 2019, employers added an average of 175,000 jobs per month, down from an average gain of 223,250 jobs per month in 2018.

For December, the unemployment rate held steady at a five-decade low of 3.5%, where it has been for three of the past four months. That is the lowest level since 1969.

The Jan. 17 report on job openings, job hires and job separations showed that hires totaled 5.8 million in November. The number of separations from jobs, which includes people leaving to get better jobs, totaled 5.65 million, basically unchanged from October.

Industrial Production Fell 0.3% in December

U.S. industrial production fell 0.3% in December, as unseasonably warm weather reduced demand for heating from utilities.

The Federal Reserve said Jan. 17 that total industrial production — which includes the manufacturing, mining and utilities sectors — slumped 1% over the past year. Factory output has tumbled 1.3% from a year ago, driving much of the overall decline as manufacturers grappled with trade disputes and slower global growth in 2019.

Still, factory output increased 0.2% in December as the metal, wood product, computer and food and beverage sectors improved. Output at auto plants fell 4.6% in December after a November surge following the end of the General Motors strike.

Mining output increased 1.3% last month because of gains in extracting oil and natural gas.

After an unseasonably cold November, temperatures in December nationwide were 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.8 degrees above the 20th century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The government agency estimated that energy demand during December was 56% below average.

Housing Construction Jumps 16.9% in December

Construction of new homes surged in December to the highest level in 13 years, capping a year in which falling mortgage rates and a strong labor market helped lift the prospects of the housing industry.

The Commerce Department reported Jan. 17 that builders started construction on 1.61 million homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in December, up 16.9% from the November pace of home building. The December building rate was the strongest number since December 2006 during the last housing boom.

Housing construction has been rising since July, helped by falling mortgage rates and increased demand. For the year, builders started work on a total of 1.29 million homes, up 3.2% from the previous year and the best showing since 1.36 million homes were built in 2007.

Applications for building permits, considered a good sign of future activity, fell 3.9% in December to an annual rate of 1.42 million, but remained well above the pace in July.

Construction of single-family homes rose 11.2% to an annual rate of 1.06 million homes last month while apartment construction fell 9.6%.

As the housing boom was reaching its peak in 2005, construction began on a total of 2.07 million homes, the highest total for any year in that boom.

By region, construction was up 25.5% in the Northeast, 37.3% in the Midwest, 9.3% in the South and 19.8% in the West.

Josh Boak contributed to this report.

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