U.S. Economy Loses 17,000 Jobs in January

Despite a slight drop in the unemployment rate to 4.9 percent in January, the economy lost 17,000 jobs last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Labor Department reported on Friday. The jobless rate was 5 percent in December.

The unexpected decline in jobs was viewed as more evidence that the United States may be slipping into a recession and fueled concerns about the future.

Arkansas will report its unemployment figures later this month.

(A special conference on regionalism Feb. 13 will explore Arkansas' job sector. Click here for more.)

Losses in Manufacturing

According to the Department of Labor report, job losses were mainly in the manufacturing, construction and goods-producing industries, while health care gained jobs.

Economists had predicted a gain of about 75,000 jobs in January, and leading indicators seemed to suggest a relatively strong report, but the government reported the first decline in jobs since August 2003.

Construction employment decreased by 27,000 in January and has fallen by 284,000 since its peak in September 2006. Over-the-month job losses occurred in residential building, down 10,000 jobs, and residential specialty trade contractors, which fell by 18,000 jobs.

Manufacturing lost 28,000 jobs in January. Over the month, small declines occurred among many durable and nondurable goods industries. Manufacturing has lost 269,000 jobs over the past 12 months.

Health care employment continued to grow, gaining 27,000 jobs in January, about in line with average monthly gains over the prior 12 months.

Food services employment also continued to trend upward in January, adding an average of 16,000 jobs.

Employment in financial activities was about unchanged as commercial banking lost 4,000 jobs, and securities, commodity contracts, and investments added 5,000 jobs. Since reaching a peak in December 2006, employment in financial activities has declined by 99,000.

There was little movement in both wholesale and retail trade. Within retail trade, employment in food and beverage stores was up by 12,000 over the month.

Average hourly earnings of rank-and-file workers rose by 4 cents in January to $17.75, seasonally adjusted. Average weekly earnings fell by 0.1 percent in January to $598.18. Over the year, average hourly earnings rose by 3.7 percent, and weekly earnings rose by 3.4 percent, below the rate of inflation.