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US employers added a robust 272,000 jobs in May in a sign of sustained economic health

Last month’s sizable job gain suggests that the economy is still growing steadily, propelled by consumer spending on travel, entertainment and other areas of the service sector.
Economy Jobs Report
Posted at 7:34 AM, Jun 07, 2024

America’s employers added a strong 272,000 jobs in May, accelerating from April and a sign that companies are still confident enough in the economy to keep hiring despite persistently high interest rates.

Last month’s sizable job gain suggests that the economy is still growing steadily, propelled by consumer spending on travel, entertainment and other areas of the service sector. U.S. airports, for example, reported record traffic over the Memorial Day weekend. A healthy job market typically drives consumer spending, the economy’s principal fuel. Though some recent signs had raised concerns about economic weakness, May’s jobs report should help assuage those fears.

Still, Friday's report from the government included some signs of a potential slowdown. The unemployment rate, for example, edged up for a second straight month, to a still-low 4%, from 3.9%, ending a 27-month streak of unemployment below 4%. That streak had matched the longest such run since the late 1960s.

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Taylor O'Bier
12:29 PM, May 28, 2024

President Joe Biden is still likely to point to Friday's jobs report as a sign of the economy’s robust health under his administration. The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump has focused his criticism of Biden’s economic policies on the surge in inflation, which polls show still weighs heavily in voters’ assessment of the economy.

Hourly paychecks also accelerated last month, a welcome gain for workers but a trend that could contribute to stickier inflation. Hourly wages rose 4.1% from a year ago, faster than the rate of inflation and more quickly than in April. Some companies may raise their prices to offset their higher wage costs.

The Federal Reserve’s inflation fighters would like to see the economy cool a bit as they consider when to begin cutting their benchmark rate. The Fed sharply raised interest rates in 2022 and 2023 after the vigorous recovery from the pandemic recession ignited the worst inflation in 40 years.

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Justin Boggs
12:22 PM, Jan 04, 2024

Annual inflation has declined to 2.7% by the Fed’s preferred measure, still above the Fed’s 2% target. Cooler hiring over time could slow wage gains and help fully tame inflation. Chair Jerome Powell has said the Fed needs greater confidence that inflation is returning sustainably to its target before it would reduce borrowing costs.

When the Fed began aggressively raising rates, most economists expected the resulting jump in borrowing costs to cause a recession and drive unemployment to painfully high levels. Yet the job market has proved more durable than almost anyone had predicted. Even so, Americans remain generally frustrated by high prices, a continuing source of discontent that could imperil Biden’s re-election bid.

A key reason why the economy is still producing solid net job growth is that layoffs remain at historic lows. Just 1.5 million people lost jobs in April. That’s the lowest monthly figure on record — outside of the peak pandemic period — in data going back 24 years. After struggling to fill jobs for several years, most employers are reluctant to lay off workers.