Friday, June 3, 2011

Hiring in US Slowed in May With 54000 Jobs Added

After several months of strong job growth, hiring in the United States slowed sharply in May, suggesting the economy is running out of steam once again.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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The Labor Department reported on Friday that the nation added 54,000 nonfarm payroll jobs last month, after an increase of about 220,000 jobs in each of the three previous months. May’s job gain was about a third of what economists had been forecasting.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent from 9.0 percent in April.

“The economy clearly just hit a brick wall,” said Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics. “It’s almost as if it came to a complete standstill.”

Friday’s dismal job numbers capped a week of disappointing economic news on manufacturing, housing and retail activity. Pressure is now mounting on the Obama administration and Congress to delay deficit-reduction measures, which economists think will put a further drag on the fragile recovery. Already liberal groups have renewed their calls for more aid to the states and more aggressive action from the Federal Reserve — even as a warning from Moody’s about the country’s sterling credit rating has galvanized Republican support for spending cuts.

In some ways the moment is reminiscent of last spring, when the economy also braked abruptly just as it seemed to be gaining momentum. At the time, the slowdown was attributed to worries over the European debt crisis, just as Friday’s numbers have been attributed in part to temporary stresses from higher energy prices and natural disasters. Last year’s downshift was ultimately followed by additional federal spending and another round of asset purchases by the Federal Reserve.

The latest jobs numbers sent markets tumbling, with oil prices and bond yields declining. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 133 points, or 1.1 percent, within minutes after the opening bell, though stocks later recovered some of those losses.

The biggest employment gains were in professional and business services and in health care services, which grew steadily even during the recession.

State and local governments, struggling with severe budget shortfalls, continued to shed jobs. They are expected to keep laying off workers for months to come. Private companies added jobs, but the pace of hiring fell to its lowest level in a year.

And there are signs that hiring problems may persist.

One particularly unsettling figure in Friday’s report was in hiring for temporary help services. Temp hiring is considering a bellwether for broader hiring, since employers often try out temporary employees when considering whether to take on additional permanent staffers. Employment in temporary help services was essentially unchanged in May, however.

Another leading indicator — the length of the workweek — was also disappointing. Usually businesses start working their existing employees harder and longer before hiring more workers. But the average workweek did not budge in May, a factor that does not bode well for the many workers waiting on the sidelines.

Manufacturing employers delivered another blow to the economy by ending their six-month streak of continued job gains. Manufacturing companies eliminated 5,000 jobs over all in May.

“They were our bright spot for so many months,” Ms. Boushey said. “They were what was pulling the economy forward.”

While any job gains at all are welcome, the pace of job growth thus far has been too slow to reverse much of the damage wrought by the Great Recession, which has left nearly 14 million unemployed workers in its wake. For the last few months economists had been predicting that the economy was finally gathering steam and that a sharper bounce-back was imminent, only to be disappointed again and again.

The lackluster employment figures for May, as in months past, may be partly attributable to temporary factors, like the automotive supply chain disruption caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and higher oil prices caused by unrest in the Middle East.

 Economists have been hopeful that as these troubles pass, a robust recovery will finally burrow out from beneath the

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