America's employers added 199,000 jobs in December, falling far short of analyst forecasts. Economists had forecast that employers added 400,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by data provider FactSet. December hiring was little changed from the 210,000 jobs added in November, the Department of Labor said Friday. In a positive sign for the economy, the nation's unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December from 4.2% the previous month. That's the lowest rate since 3.5% in February 2020, before the pandemic erupted across the U.S. and crippled the economy. The disappointing job growth last month comes amid the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, which has closed college campuses and prompted the cancellation of public events. Also concerning is that the survey period for the government's latest employment report ended December 18, before the sharp spike in COVID-19 cases spread across much of the nation. At the same time, employers are struggling to fill jobs amid a tight labor market, creating hurdles to hiring amid a worker shortage. "The muted 199,000 gain in non-farm payrolls and the more muted increase in labor force participation suggest that worker shortages were becoming a bigger restraint on employment growth, even before the Omicron surge in infections, which could knock hundreds of thousands off payrolls in January," Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist with Capital Economics, said in a report. 2021: Stronger job growth than pre-pandemic Despite the disappointing job growth last month, the nation's job growth averaged 537,000 per month in 2021 — much higher than the average monthly job growth of 178,000 in 2019, prior to the pandemic. While businesses are hiring, with employers dangling higher wages and bonuses to lure new workers, there are 3.6 million fewer employed people than prior to the pandemic. "Looking over the full year, 2021 jobs data is pretty mind-boggling," said Heidi Shierholz, president of the left-leaning economic think tank EPI. "We added 6.4 million jobs and the labor force participation rate rose. Wage growth was strong and workers were able to quit their jobs to take better ones." Still, some industries still haven't regained their pre-pandemic staffing lev . . . read the full article here.