This is the jobs report we've been looking for.
Not only did the economy add 321,000 jobs in November, far better than the 230,000 expected, but it also added 44,000 more in revisions, and saw average hourly earnings increase 0.4 percent from the previous month. (Although the less optimistic spin is that, on an annual basis, earnings only ticked up from 2.0 to 2.1 percent).
But the good news didn't stop there. The average workweek, which is usually a pretty indicator of future demand, increased a little too, going from 34.5 to 34.6 hours. That's actually the highest it's been since 2008. About the only thing that could come close to qualifying as "bad," or at least "not-so-great" news was that, despite all this, the unemployment rate stayed flat at 5.8 percent—but that was for the good reason that labor force expanded by 119,000.
So it's pretty unambiguously good news all around: more jobs and maybe, just maybe, higher wages than expected. And if you're into arbitrary round number stats, this is a pretty good one: it's the tenth month in a row that the economy has added 200,000 jobs or more, the first time that's happened since 1995. And, as you can see below, it's been the best 12 months for job growth since early 2006, and the best calendar year for it since 1999. The question now is whether this kind of job growth, if it continues, will get the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates before they're expected to next June. And the answer, unfortunately, is: maybe? Labor slack, after all, is declining pretty fast. Part-time workers who want full-time jobs fell by 177,000 last month. And so did long-term unemployment by another 101,000. Add in the possibility of people getting raises, which, again, is still in the nascent stage at best, and it's clear that the economy is picking up speed.
But, as I said, it'd still be unfortunate to raise rates too soon, because there's still a pretty deep hole to dig out of. It's just that the hole we were in before was so cavernous that this seems normal-ish now. Remember, 2.1 percent wage inflation, which everyone is trumpeting as a sign of a real recovery, is still nothing. Wages were rising 3 to 4 percent before the bottom fell out in 2008.
So there's still a decent amount of slack left in the economy. But more than that, it'd be better to let the economy run a little hot for a little while than to snuff out the first thing resembling catchup growth. That's because the the only thing worse than zero interest rates is having to cut them back to zero again. Better to wait and have a little more inflation—especially when it's below target at 1.4 percent—than to get antsy and have too much unemployment.
It's only taken five years, but we finally know what we have: a real recovery, if we can keep it.