December 2019 Jobs Report: Unemployment Rate Holds at 5-Decade Low

By Robert Half on January 10, 2020 at 7:42am

Employers expanded their payrolls by 145,000 jobs in December 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure is below many economists’ forecasts but nonetheless represents the 111th consecutive month of job growth. 

The following sectors saw the largest job growth in December:

  • Retail trade: 41,200 jobs added
  • Leisure and hospitality: 40,000 jobs added
  • Education and health services: 36,000 jobs added
  • Construction: 20,000 jobs added
  • Professional and business services: 10,000 jobs added

In 2019, the U.S. economy added more than 2.1 million jobs, compared with nearly 2.7 million in 2018. Job growth averaged 176,000 positions per month in 2019 versus 223,000 positions per month in 2018. 

Unemployment rate unchanged at 3.5%

The unemployment rate held steady in December at 3.5% — a 50-year low. The unemployment rate for college-degreed workers who are 25 or older dipped to 1.9% last month, from 2% in November. These professionals are the most highly sought-after job candidates. 

What employers need to know

If your organization is kicking off 2020 in hiring mode, be prepared to compete vigorously for top talent. People are searching for new opportunities right now, buoyed by the optimism that comes with a new year — and a promising job market. But you can expect that many professionals will be selective when weighing their options.

Providing competitive compensation is, of course, a must. Salary isn’t always the top consideration for job seekers, but, for most, it’s a major factor. Consult Robert Half’s Salary Guides to ensure the compensation packages — including perks and benefits — you offer align with current trends in your industry and market. 

Also be prepared to flex on compensation and other offerings when competing for your first-choice candidates. Recent research by our company found that two in five workers will lose interest in a job offer if an employer doesn’t negotiate elements beyond salary. Be proactive about discussing in-demand perks like reimbursement for professional development and remote work arrangements when interviewing potential hires.

And remember that speed is essential in this tight labor market. If you take too long to review resumes, coordinate interviews, arrange skills testing, secure internal approvals or compile the right offer, you will very likely lose out.

What job seekers need to know

Many professionals see the start of the new year as the ideal time to launch a job search. While employers are moving fast to staff new initiatives, they are also taking care to hire people who have top skills and will complement the company's organizational culture. So you need to be ready to demonstrate why you are a standout candidate.

First, make sure your resume and cover letter are crisp and current and feature relevant keywords and phrases from the job description. That may seem like obvious advice, but it’s worth repeating. 

Be sure to highlight the value you can bring to a potential employer. Don’t simply list all the positions and responsibilities you’ve had in the past — tie those experiences to clear outcomes. You want to emphasize how you have personally made a difference at other companies.

When explaining why you’re interested in a role, be specific — and enthusiastic. You want a hiring manager to know that you aren’t looking for just any opportunity; you want this job at this company. 

Also take care to line up solid references: Research by our company found that hiring managers remove one in three job candidates from consideration after a reference check.

A final tip: Work with a recruiter to increase your chances of success in finding a new position in 2020. An experienced staffing professional can help you connect with leading employers, including those you may not have known about or considered working for in the past. A recruiter will also advocate for you during the job search process, helping an employer to see your potential clearly — and helping you to find an opportunity that will be the best fit for your skills and career goals.

An infographic summarizing the December 2019 jobs report and survey data from Robert Half


145,000 JOBS ADDED*




Unemployment Rate Unemployment Rate for College Grads
January '19 4.0% 2.4%
February '19 3.8% 2.2%
March '19 3.8% 2.0%
April '19 3.6% 2.1%
May '19 3.6% 2.1%
June '19 3.7% 2.1%
July '19 3.7% 2.2%
August '19 3.7% 2.1%
September '19 3.5% 2.0%
October '19 3.6% 2.1%
November '19 3.5% 2.0%
December '19 3.5% 1.9%

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

**College-degreed workers 25 and older

See what these results mean for job seekers and employers at


43% of workers have rejected or lost interest in a job offer because the company wasn’t willing to negotiate elements beyond salary.

Source: Robert Half survey of more than 1,000 workers in the U.S.

© 2020 Robert Half. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.

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