Tomorrow we'll get the official unemployment report from the government, but this week some potential hints were provided from other sources. A few major reports agree: employment is improving. Yet there appeared to be reason for optimism about November's numbers as well, but then the official report slapped us in the face as the unemployment rate rose to 9.8% with a measly 39,000 net new jobs. Was December the month that the labor market recovery finally began to gain steam?
Let's start with jobless claims. Initial claims actually rose slightly during the week ending January 1st, by 18,000, according to the Labor Department. By that only brought the number up to 409,000, which is relatively low compared to the past two years. The five-week average for December was 413,200 -- 18,300 lower than the average from the four weeks of November. Continuing claims were also much lower on average last month than in November, declining by 110,500.
Even better news comes from payroll specialist ADP (.pdf). According to its monthly estimate, an unbelievable 297,000 private sector jobs were created in December. How impressive is that? It's the highest number recorded by ADP since it began calculating the tally a decade ago. To put it in perspective, the biggest monthly gain of 2010 before that was November's tally of 92,000 net new jobs.