Companies hired at the fastest pace in seven months in December ahead of escalating concerns over surging Covid cases, according to a report Wednesday from payroll processing firm ADP.
Private job growth totaled 807,000 for the month, well ahead of the Dow Jones estimate for 375,000 and the November gain of 505,000. The November total was revised lower from the initially reported 534,000.
The total was the best for the job market since May 2021’s 882,000 figure, according to the ADP data.
Hiring was broad-based, though leisure and hospitality led with 246,000 new positions. Trade, transportation and utilities contributed 138,000, professional and business services increased by 130,000, and education and health services added 85,000.
While service-related professions led with 669,000 new hires, the goods-producing side also showed strong gains. Manufacturing rose 74,000 and construction contributed 62,000 to the total.
The job gains came the same month that soaring Covid cases sparked renewed fears of an economic slowdown. The U.S. earlier this week reported 1 million new positive cases in a single day as the omicron variant has run rampant through the population.
However, the ADP report, compiled with Moody’s Analytics, covers through the middle of December, before the worst of the escalation.
“December’s job market strengthened as the fallout from the Delta variant faded and Omicron’s impact had yet to be seen,” said Nela Richardson, ADP’s chief economist. “Job gains were broad-based, as goods producers added the strongest reading of the year, while service providers dominated growth.”
The release comes two days before the more closely watched nonfarm payrolls report from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics that is expected to show growth of 422,000, according to the consensus Dow Jones estimate.
Following the ADP release, Goldman Sachs raised its estimate for the December nonfarm payrolls count to 500,000, a 50,000 increase from its prior estimate.
The two counts can differ substantially: For the 12 months prior to December, ADP’s tally averaged about 441,000 a month, while the BLS averaged 483,500.
Businesses with 500 or more employees accounted for the bulk of the gains in December, adding 389,000 jobs. Medium-sized firms added 214,000, while companies with fewer than 50 workers contributed 204,000.
The rapid pace of hiring reflects trends in weekly jobless claims, which are running around their lowest levels in more than 50 years.
However, total employment remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Even with the unemployment rate dropping from its pandemic high of 14.8% to the current 4.2%, there are some 3.6 million fewer Americans at work compared with February 2020, and the labor force is smaller by nearly 2.4 million as the labor force participation rate is down 1.5 percentage points, according to BLS data through November.