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Unemployment down as UAW and Hollywood actors return from strikes

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The nation's job market has shifted to a lower gear, but it shows no sign of stalling out. That is boosting hopes for a soft landing with lower inflation and no recession. Today we learned that U.S. employers added 199,000 jobs last month. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: November's job total was pumped up a bit by the return of autoworkers and Hollywood actors who had been on strike the previous month. Setting aside those gains, hiring was roughly in line with the 150,000 jobs that employers added in October. Hiring last month was concentrated in health care, restaurants and government. While job growth has slowed since the beginning of the year, employers are still adding more than enough workers to keep unemployment in check. The unemployment rate fell last month to just 3.7%. It's been under 4% for 22 months now, the longest such streak since the Vietnam War. Economist Sarah House of Wells Fargo says the recent moderation in job growth is just what the Federal Reserve wants to see as it tries to bring inflation under control without sending the economy into a ditch.

SARAH HOUSE: I think, overall, the Fed's going to be happy with this report. You still have an overall strong jobs market, that it's not rapidly collapsing by any means. I think it keeps that path open for potentially avoiding a recession.

HORSLEY: Wage gains have also moderated. Average wages in November were up 4% from a year ago, compared to an average increase of 5% the previous year. The good news, House says, is that even though this year's pay raises appear smaller, they're no longer being gobbled up by rising prices.

HOUSE: Importantly for consumers, it's still outpacing inflation right now. So the slowing that we're seeing in wage growth still leaves consumers in a decent position for spending.

HORSLEY: So far, solid job gains have done little to improve people's mood about the economy. Polls show a majority of Americans are grumpy about the economic outlook. Still, more than half a million people came off the sidelines last month and started looking for work. And with gasoline prices falling sharply in recent weeks, some of the gloom may be lifting just a bit. A survey from the University of Michigan released this morning shows consumer sentiment improving for the first time in five months. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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