Little job growth, but jobless rate lowest in 16 years

The latest federal jobs report offered little drama and mostly good news.

Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 138,000 in May, lower than what economists generally expected, and the unemployment rate barely budged at 4.3 percent, the federal government reported this morning.

However, the unemployment rate stands as the lowest jobless mark since 2001. The number of unemployed people, at 6.9 million, did not change dramatically in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Since January, the unemployment rate has fallen by half a percentage point, and the number of unemployed has decreased by 774,000, the bureau said.

The labor force participation barely decreased to 62.7 percent in May but, the bureau said, has shown no clear trend over the past year. And the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons — also called “involuntary part-time workers” — held steady at 5.2 million in May.

Some observers are taking this report as a clear signal that the Federal Reserve will now raise interest rates when board members meet in two weeks.

Doug Barry, owner of Dayton-based employment agency Barry Staff, noted that the jobless rate is historically low, but also observed that there had been some hope for higher growth.

“That’s not what happened,” Barry said. “But unemployment is still low. Keep in mind that it was around 10 percent in 2009.”

Most job gains happened in health care (24,000 new jobs in May) and mining (7,000 new jobs) with growth also seen in food and drink services, as well as professional and business services.

A Cleveland economist, George Zeller lamented new downward revisions in employment data for January, February, March and April.

“The slowing growth in March and April was fortunately reversed in May to a slight May improvement,” Zeller wrote in an email.

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