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No Big Waves In The Labor Pool

Shoppers walk along Broadway in New York City. Retailers added 28,000 in May amid signs of strength in consumer spending.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
Shoppers walk along Broadway in New York City. Retailers added 28,000 in May amid signs of strength in consumer spending.

June is a nice month for treading water — if you happen to be in a swimming pool.

But if you are in the labor pool and trying to make your way toward a job, a stronger current in the right direction would be appreciated.

Unfortunately, the jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department showed that the economy continues to drift along at a languid pace.

"This rate of growth is right in line with the average growth rate of the last year and is a perfect example of the ongoing slog in the labor market," Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a research group, said in her written assessment.

Four Years After The Recession

The Labor Department report showed employers added 175,000 jobs in May, a slightly better number than most economists had been forecasting. But the unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a point to 7.6 percent as more people entered the labor market, seeking paychecks but not finding them.

The latest jobs report was issued at a time when the U.S. economy is marking the fourth anniversary of the official end of the Great Recession. The economy hit bottom in June 2009 and has been growing ever since, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Alan Krueger, head of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, pointed out that steady improvement.

"The economy has now added private sector jobs every month for 39 straight months, and a total of 6.9 million jobs has been added over that period," he said in a statement. "So far this year, 972,000 private sector jobs have been added."

Digging Out Of A 'Deep Hole'

But he also recognized that, with 11.8 million people still unemployed, things aren't exactly going swimmingly. "We continue to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007," Krueger said.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement that the "modest job growth is a positive sign," but he noted that "millions of Americans have been out of work for more than several months, wages are stagnant, and the unemployment rate is still far higher than the Obama administration promised."

Most economists and Wall Street investors were just glad the economy didn't do a spring swoon, as it has for the past three years. In those previous years, the economy would start the year fairly strong, then lose momentum in the spring. This year, the pace has held steady.

Keeping The Fed On Hold?

That steadiness bolstered confidence among investors, who interpreted the report as good news because it was neither strong enough to push the Federal Reserve to suddenly stop pumping money into the economy, nor weak enough to signal a looming recession. Most stock indexes moved up in the wake of the report.

This latest employment report showed that private employers added 179,000 jobs last month, while the federal government cut 14,000 positions. Local governments added 13,000 jobs.

The U.S. labor force grew by 420,000 in May, and average hourly wages nudged up 1 cent to $23.89. The average workweek held steady at 34.5 hours.

Consumers have been helping the economy with additional spending, and that caused retailers to add 28,000 jobs while restaurants added 38,000. Because of growth in residential housing, construction companies added 7,000 jobs, but manufacturers pulled back, lopping off 8,000 jobs.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
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