Last month's jobs day was a stupendously positive surprise, showing that employers added 321,000 jobs in November. Friday, everyone will be watching to see if we repeated the magic in December.
Economists expect the report to show that the economy added 245,000 jobs last month, according to figures from Bloomberg — a strong figure, even if it's nothing like November's blowout. There were plenty of positive forces at work last month that could easily boost the payrolls figure — gas prices plummeted, for example, and consumer sentiment hit an eight-year high.
But that's not the only place to look to gauge the health of the labor market. Wages have been The Thing to Watch in jobs reports lately. In November, average hourly wages grew by nearly 0.4 percent from October, the fastest growth in almost a year and a half. If solid wage growth manages to stick around, it could be a sign that the slack in the labor market is finally dissipating.
One other indicator of that would be higher labor force participation. In October the labor force participation rate hit 62.7 percent, its lowest point since 1978. That figure tracks the share of the working-age population that's either working or looking for work. The participation rate might not regain its recent highs anytime soon, thanks to retiring baby boomers — it was above 67 percent in the late 1990s and early 2000s — but a pickup would show that people are confident enough to start looking for jobs again.