The US unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent in January, the Labor Department reported on Friday. It's the first time the unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent since the 2008 financial crisis.
The same report shows that there were 151,000 new jobs created in January. That's a bit of a slowdown — in 2015, the economy created approximately 225,000 new jobs, on average, per month.
These mixed results suggest that the economy is doing relatively well but could be doing even better. Another sign of this is wage growth. Over the past year, the average worker's hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent — just slightly faster than the (currently quite low) rate of inflation. In a really strong economic boom — the kind we enjoyed in the 1990s, for example — we should be seeing workers' wages growing much faster than the inflation rate, producing real increases in people's standards of living.
These statistics will help inform the Federal Reserve as it decides whether to continue raising interest rates in the coming month. Last month, the Fed raised rates for the first time since 2006, a sign that the central bank was becoming less worried about unemployment and more worried that an overheating economy would generate inflation.
But while the unemployment rate is relatively low, slow wage growth and modest job creation seem like signs that the economy is in no danger of overheating, suggesting that the Fed might want to hold off on further interest rate increases.