By.Paul Davidson,USA TODAY
Employers added 217,000 jobs in May as the labor market reached a milestone with the recovery of all 8.7 million jobs lost in the recession.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.3%, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists surveyed by Action Economics estimated that 220,000 jobs were added last month.
Employment, at 138.5 million, exceeds its pre-recession level for the first time in the nearly five-year-old recovery. Payrolls fell by 8.7 million from January 2008 through February 2010, but since then non-farm jobs have risen by 8.8 million.
FIRST TAKE: More jobs but no cheer on wage gains
While the milestone is noteworthy, U.S. employment is still below where it should be after taking into account the growth in population and the labor force since the recession.
May’s tally also mark the fourth straight month that job gains have topped 200,000 — the first such stretch since October 1999-January 2000.
Businesses added 216,000 jobs, while federal, state and local governments added 1,000 as professional and business services, health care and leisure and hospitality led the additions.
April’s job gains of 288,000 were revised down slightly to 282,000.
Despite harsh winter weather that caused the economy to contract in the first quarter for the first time in three years, the labor market has shifted into a higher gear this year, gaining an average 213,000 jobs a month, vs. 194,000 in 2013. Such an increase can create a virtuous cycle, with job growth fueling more consumer and business spending and even stronger payroll gains.
Paul Ballew, chief economist of Dun & Bradstreet, expects monthly job additions to average 235,000 to 240,000 this year.
“Clearly the labor market is picking up some momentum,” he says. “At some point that’s going to translate into wage increases.”
Ballew, however, noted the jobs recovery is uneven, with business services and health care leading and middle-wage sectors such as manufacturing and construction growing but recouping only a fraction of the positions lost in the recession.
In May, education and health services led job gains with 63,000. Professional and business services added 55,000. And leisure and hospitality added 39,000.
Manufacturing, meanwhile, added 10,000 and construction, 6,000.
Some other labor market indicators were encouraging. A broader measure of pain in the job market that includes part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs, Americans who’ve given up looking for work and the unemployed — dipped to 12.2% from 12.3%.
And the number of Americans out of work at least six months dropped by 78,000 to 3.4 million. The long-term unemployed still make up 34.6% of all the jobless.
The average work week was unchanged at 34.5 hours for the second straight month. Employers often add hours before beefing up staff. Hourly earnings rose 5 cents to $24.38.
Several analysts were optimistic ahead of Friday’s employment report, noting that initial jobless claims — a barometer of layoffs — have continued to fall to pre-recession levels recently. And a measure of service-sector employment rose last month.
Others expected the job market to take a breather after April’s booming gains. Private payroll processor ADP reported this week that businesses added 179,000 jobs in May, below the 200,000-plus expected.
The economy generally has rebounded recently after shrinking in the first quarter amid cold and snowy weather. Manufacturing activity, business investment and home sales have picked up, but consumer spending has lagged.