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U.S. job growth soars

Latest figures show 2014 hiring best in 15 years

Christopher S. Rugaber Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A resurgence in U.S. hiring accelerated in November and put 2014 on track to be the healthiest year for job growth since 1999.

The gain of a robust 321,000 jobs – the most in nearly three years – put further distance between a strengthening American economy and struggling nations throughout the developed world.

The job market isn’t yet fully healthy. But its steady improvement raises the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates from record lows by mid-2015.

The unemployment rate remained at a six-year low of 5.8 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.

“These were boomlike numbers,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “They indicate that the U.S. economy is on very solid ground.”

Friday’s report also raised hopes that Americans’ pay might finally be starting to increase after barely budging since the Great Recession began seven years ago. The average hourly wage rose 9 cents to $24.66, the biggest gain in 17 months.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has cited stagnant wages as a key reason to keep rates low. Higher wages could lead to higher prices, and the Fed might feel compelled to raise rates to limit inflation.

Still, over the past 12 months, hourly pay has risen just 2.1 percent, barely above the 1.7 percent inflation rate. And economists note that inflation remains below the Fed’s 2 percent target and will likely stay tame because of lower energy prices. That might give the Fed some leeway to wait.

The Fed has kept its benchmark rate near zero for six years to encourage borrowing and spending.

So far this year, the economy has gained 2.65 million jobs. With a month to go, 2014 is already the best year for hiring in 15 years.

That is partly a reflection of the anemic pace of job growth for much of the recovery. Only this year, five years after the recession officially ended, have job gains neared levels historically associated with a strong economy. In the 1980s and 1990s, employers regularly added more than 3 million jobs a year.

Even now, signs of weakness remain: There are 6.9 million people with part-time jobs who would prefer full-time work – up from 4.1 million before the recession.

And millions have given up looking for work. That has been a factor in the declining unemployment rate: Once people stop seeking a job, they’re no longer counted as unemployed.

A broader measure of unemployment, which includes involuntary part-time workers and people who have given up looking, stands at 11.4 percent.

Many Americans remain anxious about the economy. In a Gallup poll last month, 30 percent said the economy was “poor,” compared with 24 percent who said it was “good” or “excellent.”

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