Economy adds 244,000 jobs; unemployment rises to 9%
By Neil Irwin,
Employers ramped up hiring in April despite higher fuel costs and global political turmoil, the government said Friday, offering the latest evidence that businesses are confident about the economic recovery.
Private employers continued to rebuild their depleted payrolls, adding jobs at the fastest pace in five years. The addition of 244,000 new positions, in both the private and public sector, in April was up from 221,000 in March.
But even as job creation accelerated, the figures released by the Labor Department showed that the economy is still growing too slowly to reduce unemployment to normal levels for years to come.
This challenge was reflected in a jobless rate that ticked up to 9 percent in April, from 8.8 percent in March. The increase was likely a statistical correction after a sharp decline over previous months that may have been overstated, rather than a reflection of a worsening economy.
The good news in the April jobs report was what didn’t happen. Businesses and consumers have been groaning since the start of the year under the weight of higher prices for gasoline, food and other products made from commodities such as copper and iron. But private employers didn’t pull back. They continued to create jobs, confident that consumers will still go shopping.
During the past week, commodity prices have plummeted — oil was $97.18 a barrel Friday, down more than $16 a barrel from a week earlier — and will provide a further lift to the U.S. economy if lower prices continue.
“I was relieved,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo, noting that the report of higher job growth came after a spate of weak economic data over the past two weeks. “The good news is that the economy has been able to withstand higher energy prices and still create jobs at a sustainable rate.”
There is little question, though, that the job market remains unfriendly for workers. The job growth in recent months has not been enough to put the unemployed back to work in large numbers. The proportion of the U.S. population with a job declined in April to 58.4 percent from 58.5 percent.
But a range of other indicators suggest that the April gains in business payrolls are for real. In one positive sign, Friday’s report also revised upward its estimates of previous months’ job creation, reporting that employers added 46,000 more jobs in February and March than earlier estimated.
“It appears that many employers are back to recruiting more than they were a year and, especially, two years ago,” said Jesse Harriott, chief knowledge officer at Monster Worldwide, which prepares a monthly index based on online recruitment advertising. “We’ve seen sequential increases in activity every month this year, and the good news is it’s pretty broad-based.”
President Obama cheered the new jobs numbers during a visit to Allison Transmission in Indianapolis, which makes car transmissions.
“The economic momentum that is taking place here at Allison is taking place all across America,” Obama said. “Over the last 14 months, just a little bit over a year, we’ve added more than 2 million jobs in the private sector.”
Obama’s chief economist argued that the steadiness of job creation lately — the nation added more than 200,000 jobs in each of the last three months — speaks to the durability of the recovery.
“This isn’t a flash in the pan,” said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the report “should serve as a reminder that the federal government must not prevent additional job creation and economic growth by raising taxes or imposing more onerous regulations.”
Growth was strongest in the retail sector, with 57,100 jobs added. The leisure and hospitality sector gained 46,000 jobs, signaling that consumer-driven businesses are confident about the nation’s spending outlook.
Other major gains were recorded by the professional and business service sector, with 51,000 jobs added; and education and health care, 49,000.
There was only one major employer to shed jobs: Governments cut 24,000 positions, with 22,000 of those at the state and local level. State and local governments have been dealing with budget shortfalls by laying off and furloughing workers.
The report also found that wages increased, though barely. Average hourly pay inched up to $22.95, from $22.92, and the length of the workweek was unchanged.
A broader measure of unemployment, which also captures people who are working part time but want a full-time job and those who have given up looking for work out of frustration, also advanced, to 15.9 percent from 15.7 percent.
Staff writers Felicia Sonmez and Perry Bacon Jr. in Indianapolis contributed to this report.