US employers add modest 138K jobs; rate dips to 4.3 percent

Payroll processor ADP reported that in a private survey of companies, it found that a hefty 253,000 jobs were added in May, mostly among companies with fewer than 500 workers.

But dig deeper into the report and the picture gets uglier.

Despite this latest improvement, job creation has gotten weaker in recent months with the department revising April and March figures lower, resulting in job additions averaging just 121,000 over the past three months.

Manufacturing employment fell by 1,000 jobs last month as payrolls in the automobile sector dropped 1,500 amid falling sales. Department stores alone have cut 18,600 jobs in that period.

Retailers continued to struggle, shedding 6,100 net jobs after a 5,800-position reduction in April.

Cooler hiring may partly reflect the challenge of finding skilled and experienced workers amid a tightening job market. But it is worth paying close attention to the industry's direction; there are almost 16 million retail jobs in the U.S. Manufacturing, which tends to get far more attention from politicians, employs 12 million people. People are better off financially and less afraid they are going to lose their jobs and their homes. The industry has added an average of 46,000 jobs per month thus far this year, in line with the average monthly job gain in 2016.

For metropolitan areas in April, the agency says, Ames, Iowa, and Boulder, Colo., had the lowest unemployment rates, at 1.7 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

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The 2016 May jobs report stunned everyone when the US only added 38,000 jobs (it was later revised up a little). It's too soon to worry, but not too soon to start paying attention.

The national unemployment rate nudged lower, to 4.3 percent from 4.4 percent - a 16-year low.

There was some good news in the employment report.

The government only considers people unemployed if they are actively looking for work. Workers generally enjoy higher incomes once they generate more value per hour on the job.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 138,000, well below the 185,000 figure pencilled in by economists, while numbers for March and April were revised down by a total 66,000. Some economists pointed out that the retirement of baby boomers would continue to press down labor-force participation. The two forces have more or less offset over the past year, with the participation rate bouncing around but not really moving either up or down.

The May figures indicate the US economy remains strong, and suggest a likely increase in the Federal Reserve's benchmark rate, later in June. Here's what a Fed rate hike means for you. But job growth in May was down across many key sectors.

Investors, however, still see a hike as likely. The jobless rate has declined five-tenths of a percentage point this year. It led the Fed to cancel its plans of raising rates last June.

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