U.S. economy adds 290,000 jobs

The economy got what it was looking for in April: A burst of hiring that added a net 290,000 jobs, the biggest monthly total in four years. Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis says she's encouraged, but there's still work to do. (May 7)
By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 2010

The economic recovery that has bolstered manufacturing and retail recently might have finally reached the labor market, according to government data released Friday showing that employers hired workers last month at the quickest pace in four years.

The economy added 290,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported, far more than analysts had expected. The figure was embraced by economists who have lamented that the improvements in the economy, including in the housing and manufacturing sectors, had not been accompanied by encouraging news about the workforce. U.S. employers have added jobs for the past four months, according to the government survey.

At the same time, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 9.9 percent last month.

The White House pointed to the report as validation of its efforts to stimulate the economy.

"These numbers are particularly heartening when you consider where we were a year ago with the economy in free fall," President Obama said Friday from the Rose Garden. "Yes, we've got a ways to go. But we've also come a very long way. And we can see that the difficult and at times unpopular steps that we've taken over the past year are making a difference."

Employers have added more than 500,000 jobs this year, not nearly enough to compensate for the more than 8 million lost during the recession, but a step in the right direction, economists said.

"The economy has been in a recovery since the middle of last year. For that recovery to turn into an expansion and to be self-sustaining, there has to be job growth and income growth," said Stuart G. Hoffman, chief economist for the PNC Financial Services Group. "Now we're getting that."

The employment figure for last month was boosted by 66,000 temporary workers hired for the 2010 Census. But economists were most excited about the signs of life in the private sector, the engine of the economy, which added 231,000 jobs. Analysts had expected the report to show that 162,000 jobs were added overall last month.

The report was not uniformly positive. The unemployment rate, after remaining steady at 9.7 percent for the past three months, inched up to 9.9 percent in April, as more people reentered the labor force and tried to find a job.

The monthly survey includes people who are actively looking for work. So, as improvements in the economy spur idle workers to resume their search, the unemployment rate actually can rise.

About 195,000 workers who had given up their job search began looking for work last month, according to the Labor Department. Overall, the workforce increased by 805,000 last month, including people who were looking for jobs for the first time.

Yet even as more people began looking for work, the number of "discouraged" workers -- those not looking because they don't think there is a job available for them -- also rose to 1.2 million last month. And the number of people out of work for an extended period -- at least 27 weeks -- reached 6.7 million.

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