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The U.S. economy added 156,000 non-farm payroll jobs in December, with the unemployment rate ticking up to 4.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The figure—soft, but still progressing—completes the total 2.2 million jobs added in 2016, down from the 2.7 million added in 2015. Average hourly wages in 2016 increased by 2.9 percent.

“Since the election, financial markets and surveys of business and consumer confidence have showed growing optimism about short-term growth prospects of the U.S. economy,” said Gad Levanon, chief economist, North America for The Conference Board in a statement, “but it’s too early to see this optimism in December’s job growth number, which reflects a continuation of a moderate employment growth trend.” Consumer confidence reached a 13-year high in December, according to The Conference Board.

“Though job creation slowed according to December’s employment report, we have now seen a record 75 months of job growth. Growth in the labor market is slowing down for the same reason we’re seeing sluggish growth in existing-home sales: we have a supply problem,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of realtor.com®, citing the website’s 2017 housing forecast. “With job openings at near record levels, we can expect further economic growth to lead to higher wages. This growth should lead to higher household incomes and stronger consumer confidence.”

Employment will continue to be a decisive factor in the Federal Reserve’s policy action in the coming year. The Fed raised the key interest rate one-quarter percentage point in December, and intends to raise it three more times this year.

“Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings grew by 2.9 percent—a new record for this expansion,” Levanon said. “With the labor market tightening faster than pre-election expectations, wages and prices may accelerate, leading the Fed to raise interest rates faster than the market currently expects.”

“The financial markets and the Federal Reserve will follow wage increases closely, looking for signs of higher inflation,” Smoke says. “In fact, expectations of higher inflation in 2017 are responsible for the increase in mortgage rates we’ve seen since October. For consumers, the challenge will come from inflation driving mortgage rates even higher.”

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage currently averages 4.20 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

The BLS report is the last employment update out of the Obama Administration.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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