U.S. employers added 178,000 jobs in November, continuing a run of steady employment growth, the Department of Labor reported Friday.
The jobless rate fell to 4.6 percent, its lowest level since August 2007, though most of that improvement came from a reduction in the number of people looking for jobs. That meant they no longer counted as unemployed.
The jobs report, marred slightly by a small decline in average hourly earnings, left little doubt among economists that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this month.
"With job growth as high as can be expected given the lack of workers and the unemployment rate near full employment, there is little reason for the Fed not to raise rates," Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, said.
The monthly jobs report was the second-to-last of Barack Obama's presidency, which started in the middle of the nation's worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The economy was in free fall in the first two months of Obama's tenure, as 1.5 million jobs disappeared.
During his two terms, through last month, the number of U.S. jobs has increased by 8.7 percent. Among presidents who served two full terms, that ranks well below Bill Clinton at 20.7 percent and Ronald Reagan at 17.6 percent, but ahead of Dwight D. Eisenhower at 6.6 percent and George W. Bush at 1 percent.
When he takes office in January, Donald Trump will inherit an economy seemingly poised to continue growing, though not all is rosy.
While average hourly earnings fell by 0.1 percent, or by 3 cents, to $25.89 last month, they are up 2.5 percent over the last year, with gains widespread across industries, Wells Fargo Securities said. The earnings gains exceeded the 1.6 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index, "resulting in real wage gains and providing support for improved consumer spending," Wells Fargo said.
The headline unemployment rate is at a nine-year low and in the ballpark of what economists call full employment.
But a broader measure that includes people working part-time because they are unable to find a full-time job was 9.3 percent in November, "still well above its full employment level, which I judge to be around 8.5 percent," Jared Bernstein , a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote on his blog.
Bernstein argued that the Fed will probably raise rates this month, but he urged caution.
"I argue that the absence of inflationary pressure should make them think twice before slowing a labor market that's finally delivering jobs and (looking at the trend vs. just November's data) wage gains to workers who've long been left behind," Bernstein wrote.
Meanwhile, economists have to wait and see which of Trump's campaign promises -- and those of other leaders worldwide -- will be translated into policy, particularly regarding infrastructure spending and trade.
Deficit spending on infrastructure would take pressure off the Fed to spur the economy, but other themes of Trump's campaign would be a long-term negative, according to economists.
"In the long term, there is little doubt that increased trade protectionism and weaker migration flows would dampen growth in the advanced economies," Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings, said.