CNN/Money One for credit card only hard offer form at $9.95 One for risk-free form at $14.95 w/ $9.95 upsell
Special Reports > Your Job 2004
Click here
Job growth soars
October shows biggest payroll gains since March, topping forecasts, but unemployment edges higher.
November 5, 2004: 11:24 AM EST
By Chris Isidore, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - U.S. job growth soared in October, blowing away even the most optimistic forecasts on Wall Street, as employers ended months of sluggish hiring that had caused worries about the strength of the economic recovery.

Employers added 337,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, up from a revised 139,000 in September, the Labor Department reported. Economists surveyed by were looking for a gain of 175,000.

The unemployment rate came in at 5.5 percent, up from 5.4 percent in September. The unemployment rate edged up because there were 367,000 more people in the labor force, the department said.

The jump in payrolls was the best gain since a gain of 353,000 new jobs in March kicked off three months of strong hiring. But job growth has lagged since then -- until Friday's report.

Still, some economists cautioned that the gains reported Friday are not likely to be repeated soon. But at the same time, investors bet the news would tilt the Federal Reserve toward more aggressive interest rate hikes in the months ahead.

On Wall Street, stocks rose solidly for a third straight session, while Treasury bond prices tumbled -- boosting yields, which move in the opposite direction from prices -- as investors bet on higher rates ahead.

Some economists believe that some of October's gain came as the government finally got a more accurate picture of the impact that three major hurricanes had in September.

"I think this report clearly shows that we got a hurricane bounce back," said Anthony Chan, senior economist for J.P. Morgan Fleming Asset Management. "It also puts the possibility of a Fed rate hike in December back in play."

While economists and investors have agreed the Fed will probably raise rates another quarter percentage point at its Nov. 10 meeting, many expected the central bank to pause, and hold rates steady, at its December policy meeting.

After Friday's strong jobs number, that is far less certain.

The debate on rates

But Steven Wieting, senior economist at Citigroup, said not even the strong October payroll number would cause the Fed to hike short-term rates in December, or to move by more than a quarter-point next Wednesday.

"The Fed can leave the panic to the markets. Obviously, employment alone does not explain the economy well over the last few years," he said.

graphic graphic graphic
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao comments on the strong October employment numbers and her role in President Bush's second term.

premium content Play video
(Real or Windows Media)

Citigroup had the job growth forecast closest to the actual results -- a gain of 325,000.

But even Wieting said he doesn't see this as the start of a hiring boom, despite the upward revision in both the August and September payroll numbers coupled with the strong October report. He said that the Department of Labor's earlier reports had underestimated the impact of the hurricanes, and other technical factors pointed to the strong October number.

"We're not going to see all October economic reports look as good as this employment report, and next month's employment is not likely to be another gain of 337,000," he said.

Chan agreed that slower employment gains are ahead in coming months. He pointed out that the average work week stayed steady at 33.8 hours and that number normally climbs before a sustained period of increased hiring.

"Without an increase (in hours), it is hard to believe that employers are dying to hire 300,000-plus new workers each month," he said.

Wage growth was tepid. Average pay rose 5 cents to $15.83 an hour, leaving wages up 2.6 percent over the last 12 months, roughly in line with inflation, up 2.5 percent annually in the most recent reading.

Among the sectors showing strong growth was construction hiring, which gained 71,000 jobs, boosted by cleanup and reconstruction efforts in hurricane-affected areas of the Southeast.

Professional and business services also added 97,000 jobs, while retailers added a seasonally adjusted 21,000 ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Among the sectors losing ground, manufacturing employment saw a net decrease of 5,000 jobs.

The job loss in manufacturing is troubling and could accelerate if the dollar starts to regain some of the strength it lost during the last four years, said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

He also expressed doubt that construction employment can stay strong in the face of rising interest rates. So he also sees a strong chance of a return to weak labor reports relatively soon.

Follow the news that matters to you. Create your own alert to be notified on topics you're interested in.

Or, visit Popular Alerts for suggestions.

"The two big sources of uncertainty are, one, the dollar, and two, the housing market, that I think are really going to throw the economy for a loop," he told CNNfn Friday. "The question is when."

But Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said she believes builders are having trouble finding all the help they need and that other sectors, such as health care, should continue to see strong hiring for the foreseeable future.

"Clearly our economy is quite strong and growing stronger," she told CNNfn.  Top of page

  More on NEWS
Premier League revenues hit record high $6.4 billion
From witness stand, AT&T chief details new $15-a-month streaming service
Window seat or aisle? After Southwest incident, some fliers think twice
7 things to know before the bell
China's ZTE fires back over US ban: 'We cannot accept it'
Allergan kills talk of mega takeover bid for Shire

graphic graphic