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Economists Expect Data To Show A Pullback In Job Creation

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And we talked on this program about one motive President Putin might have for keeping things stirred up in Ukraine - to distract his country's attention from a deteriorating economy caused partly by plunging oil prices. Those falling prices have also slowed drilling here in the U.S. And that's led to layoffs in the energy sector. We'll know what effect that's having on job creation overall when the government's monthly employment report comes out later this morning. NPR's John Ydstie reports.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: A report released yesterday by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas concluded, not surprisingly, that the plunge in oil prices is leading to layoffs in energy and related industries. The firm said about 21,000 job cuts in January were directly attributable to the sharp decline in oil prices. Economist Blu Putnam of the CME group says those cuts will not be fully apparent in the government's January jobs numbers released today but will become more obvious in the coming months.

BLU PUTNAM: I think we will see a little bit of a pullback in the - you know, the oil and gas drilling industry. But I do expect it'll be more than compensated for in other sectors of the economy.

YDSTIE: Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, agrees.

LIZ ANN SONDERS: We're creating well more jobs on a monthly basis by a long shot than we're losing in oil and gas.

YDSTIE: Sonders says most businesses and consumers will benefit from lower oil prices. Last year, average monthly job growth was close to 250,000, more than 10 times the number of energy industry job cuts the Challenger survey counted in January. Surveys of economists do expect the government's report released today will show a bit of a pullback in overall job creation. Estimates are in the 235,000 range, with the unemployment rate ticking down a notch to 5.5 percent. Today's report will also provide another look at whether sluggish wage growth is picking up. Wages have barely kept up with inflation through much of this recovery. That's kept consumers cautious and held back growth. But Putnam says that's changing. He says the slow progress on wages combined with more hours worked and strong job creation are making a difference.

PUTNAM: We're creating jobs at a pace of about 3 million a year. So that's a lot more people getting paid. You put all of those three things together, and total labor income is growing nicely.

YDSTIE: Putnam says the positive effect on consumption is clearly visible in the strong auto sales in the last quarter. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.