U.S. jobless rate rises for first time in a year

Dayton Daily News - June 1, 2012

Job growth also below expectations, fueling worries about recovery.

Randy Tucker

U.S. employers added far fewer jobs than economists had expected last month, dousing the momentum behind stronger job gains in the first part of the year and pushing up the unemployment rate.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 69,000 in May, less than half of what most analysts had expected, and the unemployment rate ticked up for the first time in almost a year to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent in April, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday.

The government also revised job gains down for March and April by 49,000, resulting in average job growth of about 96,000 during the past three months.

By comparison, job gains averaged 252,000 a month in the previous three months.

Ohio showed a similar trend through the first four months of the year in which employers added more than 60,000 jobs in January and February before shedding nearly 13,000 in March and April, the state jobs department reported. Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in April.

“It’s disappointing to continue to have job growth that is subpar and nowhere near what’s needed to reverse the jobs crisis that we’ve had for some time,” said Zach Schiller, research director at the Cleveland-based think tank Policy Matters Ohio, which tracks monthly employment data.

Schiller said the only positive sign he saw in the national jobs report was a significant increase in the size of the labor force, or those employed or looking for work. That number rose by 635,000 last month, which means workers who had given up their job searches jumped back into the labor market.

Despite the bleak numbers, Schiller said he was reluctant to “get too consumed with an individual month,” noting the monthly jobs numbers are frequently revised. The March number, for example, was revised up before it was revised down.

“You don’t always know what the true picture is until after the fact,” he said. “If there was some gigantic negative figure, say we went from 400,000-plus to 200,000 negative (jobs), I’d be more concerned about the monthly number.”

He added that it is important to look at the long-term trend. With the revisions, the U.S. has added an average of 165,000 jobs a month since the beginning of 2012.

Job seekers speaking at an open forum Friday at the Wesley Community Center in Dayton were not surprised by the jobs report, which, they said, confirmed their continuing struggles.

“I’m having a difficult time finding work … but I just keep on going,” said Dayton resident Crystal Taylor. “I can’t give up. I have to do what I need to do.’’

Taylor, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in public administration, has been looking for a regular, full-time job since 2003, lumping her among the 5.4 million Americans who had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer last month, according to the Labor Department report.

The number of long-term unemployed was up from 5.1 million in April and remains near record highs. In addition, the number of people working part-time because they cannot find full-time jobs edged up to 8.1 million.

In addition to a tight job market, Taylor faces added barriers as a result of her past struggles with drugs and alcohol and a felony conviction.

“They (employers) always go back to my past,” she said. “People don’t seem to trust anyone who has that background.”

But job prospects are bleak even for the most qualified workers, said Gisele Jones, who heads the jobs program at Wesley.

“I can’t say that things have gotten any better at all,” Jones said. “We still see such a large number of people coming in for help. We help felons, but we also help people with college degrees and years of experience. They can’t find jobs, either.”

Friday’s jobs report was a reflection of an unexpected slowdown in economic growth, similar to slowdowns in 2011 and 2010 entering the summer months, noted John Challenger, a labor market researcher and chief executive of international outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The U.S. Commerce Department said earlier this week that first-quarter economic growth rose at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, lower than the 2.2 percent growth in the nation’s gross domestic product previously forecast.

“That’s anemic growth, and that’s going to lead to limited hiring,” Challenger said. “We’re in a period right now where companies are very cautious about doing too much hiring. They’re worried the economy is flat, and it’s too risky to hire too many workers. They don’t want to have to lay them off if, all of a sudden, their business turns down.”

U.S. jobless rate rises for first time in a year

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