The U.S. economy added just 199,000 jobs in December, capping the year off with two straight months of disappointing levels of growth.
The unemployment rate sunk to 3.9 percent, from 4.2 percent in November.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones have been forecasting about 420,000 jobs added for the month, predicting a strong month of growth.
The report is a snapshot of the economy from the earlier part of December, before the omicron surge had begun in force, so it does not capture any effects from the latest wave of cases. At that time, cases nationally were mostly flat, averaging about 120,000 new infections a day.
The country has yet to gain back more than 3.5 million jobs it lost in the pandemic’s earliest days.
There have still been some positive indicators recently. The ISM manufacturing survey continues to register strong numbers, indicating in its December report that the manufacturing sector continued to grow, and that slowdowns from labor and material shortages appeared to be lessening somewhat.
The number of new weekly unemployment claims have fallen below pre-pandemic numbers in recent weeks, with the four week average around the time the jobs report was gathered reaching a record not seen since 1969. Those numbers have remained low in recent weeks, indicating that many companies are likely hanging onto workers even if they are running into head winds from the coronavirus surge.
Restaurant reservations had begun to dip around early December, according to data from OpenTable.
Polls continue to show that voters disapprove of President Biden’s handling of the economy, as concerns about inflation and labor shortages overshadow other achievements. Inflation has been rising by its fastest pace in 40 years.