Payrolls in U.S. climb most this year as jobless rate reaches 5%

File picture of a job fair in San Antonio, Texas. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
File picture of a job fair in San Antonio, Texas. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Employment in October surged by the most this year, wage growth accelerated and the jobless rate fell to 5 per cent, signs of labor-market durability Federal Reserve policy makers are looking for as they consider a year-end boost in borrowing costs.

The addition of 271,000 jobs exceeded all estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists and followed a revised 137,000 gain in September, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The median forecast called for a 185,000 advance. Average hourly earnings climbed from a year earlier by the most since July 2009.

In the wake of sluggish job gains the prior two months, October's advance allays concerns that an abrupt hiring slowdown would hinder the expansion's progress as economies overseas strive to gain traction. Further improvement in the job market is a precondition for Fed officials, who last month held out the possibility of a December interest-rate increase.

"Employment growth remains strong," Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York, said before the report. "The message is: The recent slowing was exaggerated. The higher the payrolls numbers, the greater the support for the Fed to move in December."

Mr O'Sullivan, who projected October payrolls would exceed 200,000, added that based on other indicators, "job growth is strong." The report also showed diminishing labor-market slack. The number of Americans working part-time because of a weak economy fell to 5.7 million in October, the lowest since June 2008.

The underemployment rate - which includes part-time workers who'd prefer a full-time position and people who want to work but have given up looking - fell to 9.8 per cent, the lowest since May 2008.

The participation rate, which shows the share of working- age people in the labor force, held at 62.4 per cent.

Fed officials said last month that they'd consider a rate increase at their next gathering, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen this week echoed the view by saying December was a "live possibility." One of the central bank's preconditions for liftoff is "some further improvement" in the labor market. It next meets on Dec. 15-16, and an increase in the benchmark rate would be the first since 2006. It's been near zero since December 2008.

American manufacturing has taken a hit with softening sales in overseas markets, a stronger dollar and oil-sector weakness depressing demand. Services, which account for about 90 per cent of the economy, are relatively shielded and faring better.