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Economist: 'Another mediocre month' for employment

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Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 165,000 in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, about the average seen each month for the past year — in other words, not good enough.

"This was just another mediocre month in an inferior recovery," said Patrick J. O'Keefe, director of economic research at CohnReznick, of Roseland. "We've been at this jobs recovery for 37 months and have averaged 162,000 each month since then. The most positive observation we can make is that the three-month average gain exceeded 200,000 for the fifth consecutive month. That last time that happened for five consecutive months was the summer of 2005."

For the last 12 months, employment growth has averaged 169,000 per month, Labor reported.

February's job gains were revised up from 268,000 to 332,000, and job gains for March were revised up from 88,000 to 138,000. In April, 210,000 people re-entered the labor market, and the number of long-term unemployed — those out of work more than 27 weeks — dropped by 258,000 in April.

Even with the added jobs, the unemployment remained steady at 7.5 percent, although it has declined 0.4 percentage points since January.

"The unemployment rate is at its lowest point in quite some time, but I see no meaningful progress in reattaching the 'invisible unemployed' — those who have given up," O'Keefe said.

The number of people without jobs, currently 11.7 million, changed little over the month, but 673,000 workers have found jobs since January, according to the report.

"While the report was mediocre, it didn't draw down the overall pace of jobs growth," O'Keefe said. "If it stays at or above 200,000 jobs each month, meaningful progress can be made in putting people back to work."

The most job gains in April were seen in professional and business services, which added 73,000 jobs, with nearly half those gains in temporary help services. Within the leisure and hospitality sector, employment in food services and drinking establishments rose by 38,000, compared to an industry average of 25,000 a month over the past year. Retail employment increased by 29,000, up from an industry average of 21,000 jobs a month over the last year.

"What caught my eye is that those three industries — food and drink, temporary jobs and retail — account for 56 percent of all private sector job gains in April, but they only account for one-quarter of private-sector jobs," O'Keefe said. "While it's good to have people back to work, those industries tend to have employment that is less secure and lower paying than other sectors of the economy."

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