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US adds jobs, but not enough

Job seekers and employers exchanged information at a jobs fair in Illinois last month.
Job seekers and employers exchanged information at a jobs fair in Illinois last month. M. Spencer Green/Associated Press/file

NEW YORK — US employers added 175,000 jobs in May, almost exactly the average monthly job growth over the last year, the Labor Department reported Friday, while the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.6 percent from 7.5 percent in April.

Economists were relieved that the numbers weren’t worse, given a string of other disappointing data in recent weeks, but noted that recent job trends are nowhere close to bringing the country back to full employment.

At the current pace of job and population growth, it would take nearly five years to get the economy back to the low unemployment rate it enjoyed when the recession officially began in December 2007.

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“It’s a decent report, but it’s not by any means robust,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics, a research firm.

“It’s certainly not strong enough to get the Fed to make any significant changes at its meeting in June,” he said, referring to speculation that the Federal Reserve might consider tapering its stimulus measures if the jobs numbers came in strong.

The major stock market indexes — the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 — closed up a little above 1 percent.

Consumers have also been relatively upbeat recently. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted May 31 to June 4 found that 39 percent of respondents believe the condition of the economy is very or fairly good, the highest share saying this both since President Obama took office and even since the recession began.

Despite signs of optimism from consumers and investors, other indicators of the health of the economy and the job market have been mixed.

Average weekly hours and average hourly earnings, for example, have shown little improvement in recent months, according to the Labor Department. Wages are up just 2 percent from a year earlier, which bodes poorly for consumer spending.

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“The wage gains are very disconcerting, and particularly strange when you see these surveys of employers who say they have positions they can’t fill,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “That means they should be bidding up wages.”

Wage growth may be held back by the composition of new jobs being created, he said, as there are a lot of jobs being added in low-paying sectors like retail. Restaurants and bars, for example, have added 337,000 jobs over the last year. The other big industry to add jobs in May was professional and business services, particularly in temporary help services.

The federal government lost 14,000 jobs in May, presumably a result of the across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as the sequester, implemented by Congress in March.