In the book of United States economic history, the November jobs numbers released on Friday would make a fitting end to a particularly long, terrifying chapter that began nine years ago.
The unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, the Labor Department said, from 4.9 percent. The last time it was this low was August 2007. That was the month, you may recall, when global money markets first froze up because of losses on United States mortgage-related bonds: early tremors of what would become a recession four months later and a global financial crisis nine months after that.
In the last nine years, we’ve witnessed events in economic, financial and political history so convulsive that our 2007 selves wouldn’t have been able to imagine them. But while the political future may be more uncertain than ever, the economic and financial outlook is getting mercifully boring again.
After all, not only is the 4.6 percent unemployment rate consistent with what economists consider full employment, but bond markets, following a sell-off that began after Election Day, are now priced to reflect a return to more normal interest rates than had seemed probable just a month ago. The Federal Reserve appears likely to raise interest rates when its policy committee meets in less than two weeks.
In truth, the details of the new jobs numbers are more uneven than the drop in the unemployment rate would suggest. Part of the decline was caused by 226,000 people dropping out of the labor force (there were also 160,000 more people who reported themselves as employed, so the decline in joblessness was for a mix of bad and good reasons).
Millions of working-age people, especially men, are neither working nor looking for work, which remains the lingering weak spot in the United States economy and is most likely a factor in Americans’ continued dissatisfaction with the economy (and their votes for Donald J. Trump for president).
Moreover, some progress toward higher wages reported in the October jobs numbers was partly reversed, with an 0.1 percent fall in average hourly earnings for private-sector workers. Still, the 2.5 percent gain in that wage measure over the last year represents real income gains in a time of low inflation. And the silver lining of softer wage growth is that it will make the Fed more inclined to be patient in raising rates by diminishing the central bank’s inflation fears.
While the 178,000 jobs the United States added in November were consistent with projections, the combination of a low unemployment rate and a stable-or-shrinking labor force implies that the economy won’t be able to keep that up for long. If employment gains are going to continue at that pace, it will have to be because more Americans join the work force.
The pool of people who formally count as unemployed — those who say they want a job and have looked for one in the last month — is down to 7.4 million, the lowest since November 2007. To keep up that speedy job growth, employers will need to pull in people who don’t fit that definition but who are able and willing to work.
The economy isn’t perfect; it never is. But Mr. Trump will be inheriting an economy largely healed from its trauma of the last nine years, and with most indicators pointing in the right direction. Everyone can hope that the next chapter in that economic history of the United States will be a more boring one than the last