US adds 353K jobs in January, soaring past expectations

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The U.S. economy added 353,000 jobs in January, and the unemployment rate clocked in at 3.7 percent, according to new data released Friday by the Labor Department.

The January jobs report far exceeded the gain of 185,000 jobs and a 3.8 percent unemployment rate expected by economists polled by the Wall Street Journal.

The first look into the 2024 labor market comes as President Biden ramps up his economic pitch ahead of a potential rematch with former President Trump, who seems to be closing in on the Republican presidential nomination after winning the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary last month.

Biden and Trump have spent weeks sparring over their economic records and the state of the economy.

Consumer confidence in the economy hit its highest level in more than two years, according to surveys released by Gallup and the Conference Board this week, but Americans aren’t sold on Biden’s handling of the economy.

Just 28 percent of Americans rated the economy as excellent or good, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 5,140 adults between Jan. 16 and 21 released Sunday. 

That’s a 9 percent increase from April 2023, primarily driven by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters, but far below pre-pandemic levels. The share of Americans who rated the economy as excellent or good was 57 percent in January 2020, when Trump was president, although that rating fell to 23 percent in April 2020 when the pandemic shut down large swaths of the economy.

Biden’s overall approval rating remains negative at 33 percent, according to the Pew Research Center survey, unchanged from December. Trump currently has a 1.6 point lead in a hypothetical matchup with Biden in November, according to the polling average by Decision Desk HQ/The Hill on Thursday afternoon.

Inflation and high prices remain top of mind for many voters. The Federal Reserve held interest rates at a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent on Wednesday as it waits for “greater confidence” that inflation was under control.

“I don’t think it’s likely that the committee will reach a level of confidence by the time of the March meeting,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference following the announcement.

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