The private sector added 215,000 jobs in December, according to payroll processor ADP. The figure comes in well above consensus estimates of around 150,000, according to Bloomberg, and points to a promising December job report.
"[215,000] is above the trend job creation we've been getting over the past couple of years, at about 150,000 a month," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which coproduces the report with ADP, in a call with reporters Thursday morning.
The data represent job growth across several industries, including 53,000 new jobs in the trade, transportation, and utilities category, as well as 37,000 new jobs in professional and business services. Construction was also unexpectedly strong, with 39,000 new jobs, though Zandi noted that industry may be benefiting from reconstruction after Hurricane Sandy.
Manufacturing, meanwhile, subtracted 11,000 jobs. That industry's job growth has flattened in recent months after posting moderate growth since the recession.
Particularly encouraging about the latest figure from ADP is that it signals strong job creation in a month marked by intense fighting among lawmakers over the fiscal cliff, Zandi said. Many in the business community complained of the uncertainty created by the potential tax and spending changes, saying that it was hindering their abilities to plan for the future. Still, job growth appears to have withstood this uncertainty.
"The fiscal cliff debate ... has not seemed to have done significant damage to the job market," Zandi said. "One could argue that we'd be seeing more job creation if we were not in the middle of these difficult fiscal decisions, but it doesn't appear that they are weakening economic growth."
Though the addition of 215,000 jobs is an encouraging sign, it does not necessarily mean that job creation is accelerating significantly. Another indicator released today signals that the job market continues its slow march to recovery. The Labor Department reports that new unemployment insurance claims for the week ending December 29 stood at a seasonally adjusted 372,000, up 10,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average, a measure that smooths out this naturally volatile indicator, remained flat, inching up by just 250 claims, to 360,000.
Plenty of factors could keep job growth from accelerating in the coming months. Zandi points to future potential legislative fights that will continue the atmosphere of business uncertainty: battles over spending cuts, tax reform, and raising the debt ceiling. He believes job gains will remain around the trend of 150,000 per month until lawmakers have settled these pressing issues.
"It won't be until the other side of the Treasury debt ceiling that we're going to see stronger job growth on a consistent basis," he said.