Restaurants added 40,700 jobs last month, continuing an end-of-year acceleration in hiring while joining an overall jobs market that appears to be heating up even after a decade of growth.
Over the past year, the industry has added more than 235,000 jobs and now employs nearly 12.1 million people, according to federal data released Friday.
The acceleration came at the same time as a broader improvement in the overall jobs market in December. Total nonfarm employment jumped by 312,000 in December, and jobs numbers for October and November were revised upward.
The unemployment rate rose, however, to 3.9% largely due to an increase in the number of people who voluntarily left their jobs—a sign that workers feel confident in their job prospects.
Wages are also creeping upward, an important number for a restaurant industry dependent on customers who have more disposable income. Average hourly earnings were up 3.2% over the past year. Average hourly earnings were $27.48 in December, up 11 cents over November.
At the same time, heavy hiring in the restaurant industry has pushed up wages at an even faster rate. Leisure and hospitality workers’ wages have risen 4.3% over the past year.
That will keep up labor cost pressure into the new year even as sales at many restaurant chains have been weak as competition has increased.