The trajectory of the economy as the holidays approach and a tumultuous year nears its conclusion will come into focus Friday morning when the government releases data on hiring and unemployment in November.
Economists polled by Bloomberg are looking for a gain of 550,000 jobs, a robust number that suggests economic momentum. In October, employers added 531,000 jobs, and initial claims for unemployment benefits recently touched a 52-year low.
The unemployment rate is expected to dip one-tenth of a percentage point, to 4.5 percent.
Employment has been helped by the easing of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in many places and increased hiring at bars and restaurants as well as stores, offices and factories. The emergence of the Omicron variant threatens some of those gains, but it is too soon to gauge the risk to the economy.
“We should continue to see strong jobs growth because demand for labor is red hot, but there is a lid on potential acceleration as the pandemic is still going on,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the career site Glassdoor.
He expects the report to show formidable hiring in retailing, transportation and warehousing with companies staffing up in anticipation of holiday demand.
Despite the tight labor market and the healthy recent hiring number, the economy remains roughly four million jobs short of prepandemic levels. About one-third of those positions are in the leisure and hospitality sector, which is vulnerable if the Omicron variant turns out to be as much of a threat as the Delta variant, constraining travel and gatherings.
“That’s the risk, but it probably won’t show up before Christmas,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “It could be an issue in the new year. We’re still dealing with the Covid pandemic, and the risks are there for the economy and hiring.”
The economy’s path has been characterized by clashing signals throughout the fall.
The “quits rate” — a measurement of workers leaving jobs as a share of overall employment — has been at or near record highs, evidence of confidence among workers that they can navigate the labor market and find something better. But the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment dropped to levels not seen since the sluggish recovery from the recession of 2007-9.
The report noted “the growing belief among consumers that no effective policies have yet been developed to reduce the damage from surging inflation.” Shoppers are facing the steepest inflation in 31 years. In October, prices increased 6.2 percent from a year earlier.
Nonetheless, markets have remained relatively calm. The major stock indexes are up by impressive levels this year. And bond yields, which tend to move higher in inflationary environments, remain near record lows, indicating that investors don’t see inflation as a longer-term threat to the economy or financial stability.