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May Jobless Rate Unchanged as Payrolls Rise by 217K

UnemploymentAfter surpassing expectations in April, the labor market performed slightly better than anticipated in May, according to numbers released Friday by the Department of Labor.

According to the government, the economy added 217,000 new jobs last month, beating out a consensus forecast of 213,000 among economists surveyed by Econoday. The gain—a retreat from April's downwardly revised estimate of 282,000 jobs added—left the national unemployment rate unchanged at 6.3 percent.

The seasonally adjusted U-6 unemployment rate, which also includes people marginally attached to the labor force and those employed part-time for economic reasons, performed slightly better, falling a tenth of a percentage point to 12.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of long-term unemployed—those without a job for at least 27 weeks—was down just slightly, sliding to 3.4 million.

With May's increase, the economy has recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession. However, Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, says the jobs that have been gained haven't been especially promising.

"While the economy has generated 2.369 million jobs over the past year, a major concern remains the quality of these jobs.  Of these jobs, 388,000 were in administrative and waste services (which include temporary help services); 317,000 in retail; and 311,000 in food and beverage establishments—all low-wage sectors," Handler said. "Key higher-paying sectors, such as manufacturing, government and financial services contributed very little to this annual growth."

There were few surprises among other labor market indicators: According to the Labor Department, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was 34.5 hours, unchanged for the third straight month and the same as a year ago. Average hourly earnings were slightly up, meanwhile, rising 5 cents to $24.38.

Landing just days after the Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book report, which found modest to moderate economic expansion around the country over the last few months, Friday's jobs report will likely help to heal any bruises left by last quarter's drop in gross domestic product—and should give the Federal Open Market Committee something to think about at its next policy meeting in less than two weeks.

For now, the situation looks ripe for another cut in asset purchases. Said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics: "Monthly gains in payrolls of above 200,000 will certainly allow the Fed to stick to its QE [quantitative easing] plans this year."

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