Payrolls rebound as jobless rate falls to 5.4 percent

  • Comments
  • Print

U.S. payrolls rebounded in April following an even bigger setback a month earlier than previously estimated, a sign companies are confident the U.S. economy will reboot after stagnating early this year. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.4 percent.

The 223,000 net increase in employment followed an 85,000 gain in March that was the smallest since June 2012, figures from the Labor Department showed Friday in Washington, D.C. The jobless rate fell to the lowest level since May 2008 as more Americans entered the labor force and found work. Average hourly earnings climbed less than forecast.

Construction and health care were among the industries that accelerated the pace of hiring last month as the economy emerged from temporary setbacks that included bad weather and a labor dispute at West Coast ports. Such job growth and steadily rising wages may keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise its benchmark interest rate later this year.

“It is a respectable bounce—anything 200,000 or higher is going to lead to further diminishment of slack in the labor market,” Kathy Bostjancic, a U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics USA Inc. in New York, said before the report. The breakneck pace of hiring at the end of 2014 was “unhealthy and unsustainable, and going forward we expect more moderate gains, but still strong.”

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 96 economists called for a 228,000 advance, with estimates ranging from gains of 175,000 to 327,000. March was revised from a previously reported 126,000 advance. Revisions to prior reports subtracted a total of 39,000 jobs to overall payrolls in the previous two months.

To calculate the data, the Labor Department surveys businesses for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. The span between the agency’s April and March employment surveys was five weeks, rather than the typical four.

Participation rate

The participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people who are employed or looking for work, increased to 62.8 percent from 62.7 percent in March, which matched the lowest rate since 1978.

Wage growth remains limited, with average hourly earnings rising 0.1 percent in April after a revised 0.2-percent gain that was weaker than initially reported. Compared with a year earlier, hourly pay was up 2.2 percent last month, less than the Bloomberg median estimate of 2.3 percent.

The average work week for all employees held at 34.5 hours.

Construction employment

Employment in health services increased 55,600 in April after a 30,600 gain the month before. Construction companies took on 45,000 workers in April, the most since January 2014.

The slowdown tied to cheaper oil prices persisted in April. The mining industry, which includes oil extraction and services, lost 15,000 jobs last month, the most since May 2009.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues will use the data to help them parse the strength of the economy as they consider raising interest rates for the first time since 2006. Officials, who dropped a promise in March to be patient on raising rates, say they can act at any policy meeting, beginning with their gathering on June 16-17. Most expect them to move later this year.

Fed’s Lockhart

“The report comes at a time in which I, for one, at least am very tuned in to what signals the economy is throwing off,” Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart told reporters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 6. “I view it as a very important one to tell us about the growth momentum in the economy.”

The economy ground to a near-halt in the first quarter, weighed down by cheap oil, a stronger dollar, delays at West Coast ports and rough winter weather in parts of the country. Fed policy makers have said some of the headwinds holding back the U.S. will probably fade and give way to “moderate” growth.

Gross domestic product rose at a 0.2-percent annualized rate after advancing 2.2 percent in the prior quarter, Commerce Department data showed last month. Household spending, the biggest part of the economy, advanced at a 1.9-percent pace.

Companies including Comcast Corp. are creating jobs to capture more of those consumer dollars. The biggest U.S. cable- TV provider will create more than 5,500 jobs during the next few years to improve consumer service, with three new customer- support centers set up in New Mexico, Washington and Arizona, the company said in a May 5 statement.

While more jobs and rising wages will be a boost to consumers, profits will probably suffer if productivity fails to pick up. Companies have been hesitant to invest in new equipment, and rising labor costs without offsetting increases in efficiency can hurt earnings.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.