US Unemployment Rate Edges Up in May as 272,000 Jobs Are Added

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Written By Jackson Hartwell

The U.S. economy added a significant number of jobs in May, exceeding expectations and challenging concerns about a slowdown in the labor market.

According to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls grew by 272,000 for the month, a substantial increase from the revised 165,000 in April and well above the Dow Jones consensus estimate of 190,000.

Rising Unemployment Rate and Participation Decline

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Despite the strong job growth, the unemployment rate rose to 4% for the first time since January 2022. This increase defied economists’ expectations, who had predicted the rate would remain steady at 3.9%. The rise in unemployment occurred even though the labor force participation rate decreased slightly to 62.5%, down 0.2 percentage points.

The household survey, which calculates the unemployment rate, indicated a decline of 408,000 in the number of people reporting employment.

Insights from Analysts

Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, noted that while the headline job numbers appeared strong, the drop in household employment could signal underlying weaknesses in the economy.

“For what it’s worth, that tends to be a more accurate signal when you’re at an inflection point in the economy. You can find weakness in the underlying numbers,” Sonders said.

Broader Unemployment Measures

Moreover, a broader measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged workers and those working part-time for economic reasons, remained unchanged at 7.4%. The household survey also revealed a decline of 625,000 full-time workers, while the number of part-time workers increased by 286,000.

Sector-Wise Job Gains

Job gains were mainly concentrated in three sectors: health care, government, and leisure and hospitality, which together accounted for more than half of the new positions. Health care added 68,000 jobs, government employment grew by 43,000, and leisure and hospitality saw an increase of 42,000 jobs.

Other areas of significant growth included professional, scientific and technical services (32,000 jobs), social assistance (15,000 jobs), and retail (13,000 jobs).

Wage Growth Exceeds Expectations

Wages also showed stronger-than-expected growth. Average hourly earnings increased by 0.4% month-over-month and 4.1% year-over-year, surpassing estimates of 0.3% and 3.9% respectively.

Market Reaction

Following the release of the jobs report, stock market futures declined while Treasury yields rose. Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management, commented on the data’s implications for monetary policy:

“One step forward, two steps back. Today’s data undermines the message that other recent economic data have been giving of a cooling U.S. economy and slams the door shut on a July rate cut.”

Revisions to Previous Data

The report also included small revisions to previous months’ data: March’s job gain was revised down by 5,000 to 310,000, and April’s was revised down by 10,000 to 165,000.

Federal Reserve’s Stance on Interest Rates

Investors are closely monitoring the Federal Reserve’s actions regarding interest rates. The strong jobs report diminishes the likelihood of a rate cut in the near future. The Fed has maintained its benchmark borrowing rate at its highest level in over two decades and has shown reluctance to lower rates while inflation remains above the 2% target.

According to the CME Group’s FedWatch measure, the probability of a rate cut in September decreased to about 56%, down from around 68% the previous day. The likelihood of a second cut in December also fell to about 50%.

Historical Context of Rate Adjustments

The Fed has not lowered rates since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Between March 2022 and July 2023, the central bank raised rates 11 times, with the current target range for the federal funds rate set between 5.25% and 5.5%.

Rate Cuts are Unlikely

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In summary, while the robust job growth in May suggests strength in the labor market, the accompanying rise in the unemployment rate and decline in household employment highlight potential underlying weaknesses.

The Federal Reserve’s cautious approach to monetary policy, in light of persistent inflation, means that rate cuts are unlikely in the immediate future.



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