The unemployment rate inched up by 0.1 percent in January to 4.8 percent, as the economy reportedly added 227,000 jobs. The modest change in the unemployment rate was also associated with a rise in the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) to 59.9 percent. This is equal to the previous high for the recovery in March of last year. The jobs growth figure was somewhat higher than had generally been expected, but is somewhat offset by the fact that the two prior months' numbers were revised down by 39,000.

While the rise in the EPOP is good news, it is still well below pre-recession levels. The drop remains low even when looking at prime-age workers (ages 25-54), with the EPOP for prime-age men 2.7 percentage points below its pre-recession peaks and the EPOP for women down 1.5 percentage points. The EPOP for African Americans hit a new high for the recovery, at 57.5 percent. While these data are erratic, the January figure is more than a full percentage point above the year-round average for 2016.

Other data in the household survey were mixed, notably there was a substantial decline in the share of unemployment due to voluntary quits. The January percentage was 11.4 percent, 1.1 percentage point below its November peak.

The payroll job increases were driven by a jump of 45,900 in retail and 36,000 in construction. The January job gains were likely in part attributable to weather, as there were few serious snowstorms in the northeast and Midwest in the period preceding the reference week.