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Fed report paints picture of slow hiring at end of 2013

January 15, 2014|By Don Lee
  • People fill out applications at a job fair for concession employment opportunities at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
People fill out applications at a job fair for concession employment opportunities… (Tim Boyle / Bloomberg )

WASHINGTON -- Many analysts dismissed Friday's weak jobs report for December as an anomaly. The government said only 74,000 jobs were added last month, much fewer than the average 200,000 of recent months and what experts were expecting.

But the Federal Reserve's latest "beige book" -- an anecdotal account of the economy from its 12 banking districts -- suggests that maybe the year-end job numbers aren't a fluke after all. 

The report, released Wednesday, indicates that the national economy continued to expand at a moderate pace from late November to the end of the year, with gains in retail, manufacturing and construction. 

And the beige book says that two-thirds of the Fed's districts reported increases in jobs. But the snapshots of individual districts show there was little gusto in hiring.

Here are summaries from some Fed districts:

New York: "The vast majority of business contacts report that staffing levels have been flat in the final months of 2013."

Philadelphia: "In regard to hiring and capital expenditure plans, firms continued to expand cautiously and will do so until the pace of growth strengthens and exhibits sustainability; in addition, they face ongoing uncertainty from implementation of the Affordable Care Act."

Cleveland: "Hiring was sluggish across most industry sectors, though the pickup in construction jobs continued."

Atlanta: "Businesses did not indicate a significant pickup in hiring, nor did they report any staff reductions. Businesses continued to employ technology and utilize overtime and contract labor as an alternative to increasing permanent staff."

Chicago: "Many contacts noted continuing strength in demand for skilled and experienced workers, with positions often difficult to fill in engineering, technology, accounting and other technical occupations."

Kansas City: "Employment levels held steady or increased slightly at most responding firms."

San Francisco: "Defense-related manufacturers remained cautious, with many firms expecting to lay off workers as a consequence of delays or cutbacks in production contracts related to [government budget] sequestration."

Surprisingly, the report barely made any mention of the frigid winter weather, which many analysts believe depressed job growth in December. The harsh weather did affect retail sales in some districts, the beige book reported, but retailers did just fine in terms of hiring last month. In fact, it was the one sector, along with temporary-help firms, that added a robust number of jobs last month.

Consistent with this still-soft labor market, the beige book shows little wage pressure on employers, with the exception of certain industries in which there may be a shortage of skilled workers, for example, in construction and high-tech.

It said: "Most district reports indicated that wage and price pressures were contained and did not present major problems for local contacts."


U.S. job growth is a meager 74,000 in December

Global economy at turning point as growth picks up, World Bank says
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