December jobs report: Growth is still strong, but job seekers should prepare now for a possible slowdown
There's more good news for those looking to change jobs in 2019, but the time to act is now.
Overall, the economy remains in good shape for those looking for new opportunities, with 312,000 jobs added in December, according to the latest report released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is actually higher than the roughly 176,000 jobs that economists had expected.
Unemployment also rose from 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent, as more workers joined the labor force. Additionally, wages increased by 3.2 percent from a year ago, putting wage growth at a tie with October for the largest year-over-year increase since April 2009.
"When we look at the job market, it's a bit of a counterpoint to the tremendous amount of volatility we see elsewhere in the economy, and essentially in society," Bankrate.com senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick tells CNBC Make It.
He adds that while the current jobs report does provide some measure of comfort, job seekers should be mindful of a possible hiring slowdown due to risk factors like rising interest rates, trade war tensions and a low stock market.
Below, Hamrick and Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain break down how you should best prepare for possible changes in 2019.
Take stock of where you stand
There's no clear prediction for when an economic slowdown could take place, but Hamrick says that workers should always be aware of the risk factors associated with their employment.
"This doesn't mean you should be paranoid and looking over your shoulder all the time," he says. "But it does mean you should know that different businesses have different outlooks."
For example, he says someone working in residential home building could feel the effects of a housing market slowdown brought on by rising interest rates more so than someone working in finance. That's why, he emphasizes, professionals should always "take stock from time to time to monitor both opportunities and risk for their own employment."
Chamberlain agrees, and says that now is the perfect time for workers to not only evaluate their job security, but to also check their debt levels and create a financial cushion for a rainy day.
Take advantage of the first quarter hiring spree
Hamrick says that the beginning of the year is the perfect time to find new employment, because this is when hiring managers have fresh budgets to work with. Both he and Chamberlain say that anyone who is looking to make a job change in 2019 should do so in the first quarter of the year, before a possible slowdown creeps in.
For workers who have been off the job search for a while, Chamberlain suggests you spend the month of January updating your resume and social media profiles so you're ready to go when a new opportunity arises.
"Job searching is like dating," he says. "You want to give yourself a brief rest before you go on the market. So anyone who hasn't been on the job market in three to four years, then their resume is usually outdated and their LinkedIn profile is old. So it's worth it to spend time now getting those things up to date, because if you get thrown out of work, your unemployment insurance won't pay you your full paycheck and you will need to find employment fast."
Chamberlain also points out that there were about 6.7 million job openings posted on Glassdoor in December, with many of them carrying over into January. The job site's most recent Local Pay Report shows that industries like construction, tech and healthcare are the most in-demand sectors with both hiring and pay continuing to rise.
10 years ago this month
Even if a slowdown could be on the horizon, the job market is still booming compared to a decade ago.
CNNMoney reports that data from the U.S. Labor Department showed a decline of 524,000 jobs in December of 2008, contributing to the year's total loss of 2.6 million positions. At the time, unemployment was at 7.2 percent and the job market had seen its highest yearly loss since 1945.
Under-employment had also hit a record high, with 8 million people working part-time jobs because they couldn't find full-time work or because their hours were cut.
"The existing unemployment figures are greatly understated," billionaire steel tycoon (and now U.S. Secretary of Commerce) Wilbur Ross told CNNMoney at the time. "They count as employed someone who used to have a high-paid manufacturing job, and now is working at a Wal-Mart or a Wendy's."
By contrast, Chamberlain says that despite the current risk factors associated with the stock market and rising interest rates today, the December 2018 report shows that today's market still looks good for job seekers.
"If you look at the numbers, there are still a lot of labor shortages in tech, finance and professional service fields," he says. "So, I think if people want to make a move, they should make one now before we see some weaknesses creep in."
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