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WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) – U.S. job growth surged in January and wages increased further, recording their largest annual gain in more than 8-1/2 years, bolstering expectations that inflation will push higher this year as the labor market hits full employment.

Nonfarm payrolls jumped by 200,000 jobs last month after rising 160,000 in December, the Labor Department said on Friday.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Average hourly earnings rose nine cents, or 0.3 percent, in January to $26.74, building on December’s solid 0.4 percent gain.

That boosted the year-on-year increase in average hourly earnings to 2.9 percent, the largest rise since June 2009, from 2.7 percent in December. Workers, however, put in fewer hours last month. The average workweek fell to 34.3 hours, the shortest in four months, from 34.5 hours in December.

The robust employment report underscored the strong momentum in the economy at the start of the year. Economists say job gains are being driven by buoyant domestic and global demand.

Given that the labor market is almost at full employment, economists saw little boost to job growth from the Trump administration’s $1.5 billion tax cut package passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress in December, in the biggest overhaul of the tax code in 30 years.

President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans have cast the fiscal stimulus, which includes a reduction in the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, as creating jobs and boosting economic growth.

According to outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, only seven companies, including Apple, had announced plans to add roughly a combined 37,000 new jobs in response to the tax cuts as of the end of January.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast nonfarm payrolls rising by 180,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate unchanged at 4.1 percent. January’s anticipated jobs gains were above the monthly average…