WASHINGTON -- U.S. unemployment is back below 5% for the first time since 2008.
However, hiring is slowing down. The U.S. economy added only 151,000 in January. That is way down from December when the economy gained 292,000 jobs. Economists surveyed by CNNMoney projected that the economy would create 197,000 new jobs last month.
The unemployment rate fell to 4.9%, the lowest since February 2008.
The job market has been a bright spot in an economy that has flashed several warning signs lately.
U.S. economic growth was a mere 0.7% in the fourth quarter.
The manufacturing sector is in recession; spending on construction projects is declining; and stocks in the U.S. and around the world are tanking. The broad S&P 500 is down 6.2% this year.
But the key driver of the American economy is consumers going out and spending. That's why everyone is watching what happens with jobs and wages.
For the past several years, hiring has been strong and fewer and fewer people have filed unemployment benefits. But that's starting to change. The four-week average of people filing for unemployment has increased since October, meaning more people are out of work. This trend usually foreshadows slower job growth.
Still, a job gain of 151,000 is decent and unemployment is very low. For many economists, a 5% rate is considered full employment.
Plus, some experts worry that if job growth continued at its strong pace in 2015, it could lead to inflation rising faster than expected, forcing interest rates to go up rapidly. Fast-climbing rates can cool down business and consumer spending -- the engine the U.S. economic growth.
Wage growth has shown momentum recently. Average hourly earnings increased 2.5% in January compared to a year ago. Wage growth continues to show signs of life after it finally began to pick up momentum last fall.
Until recently, wage growth has been the one factor missing from America's recovery from the recession. As the unemployment rate remains low, many economists expect Americans to see paychecks go up.