Far exceeding expectations, the U.S. economy created nearly half a million jobs last month despite the Omicron wave, the Labor Department reported on Friday, while wages continued to rise rapidly. The surprisingly strong employment report for January confirmed that the U.S. economy entered 2022 with a great deal of momentum—and it provided the Biden Administration with an unexpected political lift.
Because of the surge in Omicron cases at the start of the year, many Wall Street economists had been warning that the January jobs figure could be a weak one. On Thursday, Goldman Sachs predicted that the employment report would show a decline of two hundred and fifty-thousand jobs. Members of the White House economics team did some damage limitation in advance: earlier this week, they pointed out that the survey that determines the payroll figure was carried out at the peak of the Omicron wave. These worries turned out to be misplaced. Not only did the Labor Department’s monthly survey of businesses show over-all job growth of a robust four hundred and sixty-seven thousand—it also showed that most of the new jobs were created in the service sector of the economy, which the pandemic has hit hardest. The leisure and hospitality sector added a hundred and fifty-one thousand jobs; retail added sixty-one thousand.