U.S. Labor Market Rebounds from Dismal First Quarter

Unemployment rate ticks down to 5.4 percent

By Roy Maurer May 8, 2015

The employment picture in America improved in April 2015, as employers added 223,000 jobs and the unemployment rate decreased to 5.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

But new revisions to last month’s jobs report downgraded March’s already meager job gains. The BLS said that employers added just 85,000 jobs in March 2015, down from the original 126,000 estimate. Over the first quarter of 2015, job gains have averaged 191,000 per month, according to revised figures.

“The good news is that there was a slightly improved outlook for jobs in April but unfortunately revisions to the March job numbers show it was an even more disappointing month for job gains than previously believed,” said Jennifer Schramm, SHRM-SCP, manager of workforce trends at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “The economy is still growing but not by much,” she added.

Employment increased in professional and business services (+62,000); health care (+45,000) especially ambulatory services, hospitals and nursing; and construction (+45,000) concentrated in specialty trade contractors (+41,000). Employment declined over the month in nonresidential building construction (-8,000) and in mining (-15,000). Since the beginning of 2015, mining jobs have declined by 49,000, with losses concentrated in support activities.

Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little change since the previous month.

“A lot of economists think that the strong dollar is keeping down employment rates in things like manufacturing,” said Schramm. About half of manufacturers (51.1 percent) and service-sector companies (53.6 percent) said they will add jobs this month, according to SHRM’s Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report for May 2015.

“Fortunately many economists think this slight dip is probably temporary and are predicting hiring to pick back up in the summer,” Schramm said.

The average workweek for private-sector employees remained at 34.5 hours in April 2015. The workweek for manufacturing workers edged down to 40.8 hours, and factory overtime dipped to 3.2 hours.

Average hourly earnings for all private-sector workers rose by 3 cents to $24.87. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.2 percent.

Unemployment Ticks Down

BLS reported that the unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in April from 5.5 percent the previous month, dropping to its lowest point since May 2008. There were 8.5 million people recorded as jobless in April.

The unemployment rate for various demographic groups—adult men (5.0 percent), adult women (4.9 percent), whites (4.7 percent), blacks (9.6 percent), Hispanics (6.9 percent) and teenagers (17.1 percent), showed little or no change from the March numbers. The unemployment rate for Asians however, increased from 3.2 percent to 4.4 percent.

The number of people out of work for less than five weeks increased by 241,000 to 2.7 million in April. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) fell slightly to 2.5 million. The long-term unemployed account for 29 percent of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 888,000.

Another important indicator of overall labor market health is the participation rate, which has been stuck on low for years.

The labor force participation rate rose slightly to 62.8 percent from 62.7 percent and has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 to 62.9 percent since April 2014. The figure is near the lowest level since the late 1970s.

Individuals categorized as involuntary part-time workers—those seeking full-time employment, but working part time—fell from 6.7 million to 6.6 million. Additionally, 2.1 million people were considered marginally attached to the labor force—unemployed, wanting and available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. Among this group, 756,000 individuals were considered discouraged—not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.4 million people marginally attached to the labor force in April had not searched for work in the past month for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities, according to BLS.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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