Job creation ended 2018 on a powerful note, with nonfarm payrolls surging by 312,000 in December though the unemployment rate rose to 3.9 percent.
The jobless rate, which was last higher in June, rose for the right reason as 419,000 new workers entered the workforce and the labor force participation rate increased to 63.1 percent. The participation level was up 0.2 percentage points from November and 0.4 percentage points compared with a year earlier.
A broader measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons held steady at 7.6 percent.
In addition to the big job gains, wages jumped 3.2 percent from a year ago and 0.4 percent over the previous month. The year-over-year increase is tied with October for the best since April 2009. The average work week rose 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting job growth of just 176,000, though they projected the unemployment rate to fall to 3.6 percent. The wage number also was well above expectations of 3 percent on the year and 0.3 percent from November.
"The far bigger than expected 312,000 jump in non-farm payrolls in December would seem to make a mockery of market fears of an impending recession," Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note. He added that the report "suggests the US economy still has considerable forward momentum."