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Economy in Brief

U.S. Payroll Increase Disappoints as Jobless Rate Steadies and Earnings Firm
by Tom Moeller  May 6, 2016

The April labor market report contained mixed signals. Growth in nonfarm payrolls eased to 160,000 (1.9% y/y) following downwardly revised gains of 208,000 and 233,000 during the prior two months. A 208,000 increase had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Weakened readings for construction and government hiring explain much of the disappointment. The unemployment rate remained stable, as expected, at 5.0%. The overall unemployment rate, including marginally attached and part-time for economic reasons, fell to 9.7%. Average hourly earnings increased 0.3% (2.5% y/y), the strongest rise since January.

From the payroll employment survey, the 160,000 job gain was the weakest since September. It lessened this year's average monthly gain to 192,000 from last year's 229,000 average. Hiring in the construction sector barely rose last month following gains averaging 24,000 earlier this year. Factory sector payrolls increased just 4,000 after declines in the prior two months. Mining sector payrolls fell 7,100 (-16.4% y/y), down in each month since October 2014.

Private service sector payrolls increased 174,000. That was off slightly from the pace earlier this year, but the trend growth of 2.5% remained constant. Professional & business services employment grew 65,000 (3.1% y/y) following two months of roughly 35,000 increase. Within that grouping, temporary help jobs rose a steady 9,300 (2.3% y/y). Educational & health services jobs rose a fairly steady 54,000 (3.1% y/y) while leisure & hospitality employment grew 22,000 (3.0% y/y). Employment in the financial sector improved 20,000 (2.0% y/y), the strongest gain in nine months. Trade, transportation & utilities hiring rose just 8,000 (1.8% y/y). That followed average monthly increases of 56,000 earlier in the year. The latest gain was lessened by a 3,100 drop (+2.2% y/y) in retail jobs following three months of strength. In the government sector, 11,000 jobs disappeared (+0.5% y/y) following five months of increase. Federal government employment declined 9,000 (+0.3% y/y). State government jobs fell 2,000 (+0.3% y/y) while local government hiring remained unchanged (0.6% y/y).

Hours-worked improved to 34.5 following two months at 34.4. These readings are down from the cycle peak of 34.6, seen most recently in January. Mining & logging hours improved m/m to 43.2, but that was down from a 45.0 hour peak in 2014. Factory sector hours remained steady at 40.7, and construction hours rebounded to 39.1. That roughly equaled the 2015 average. Private service-sector hours were steady a 33.3, reflecting 37.6 hours worked in the financial sector and 26.2 hours in leisure & hospitality.

Average hourly earnings improved 0.3%. Annual growth of 2.5% was improved from 1.9% in 2012. Improvement versus the earlier two months reflected a 0.7% rise in manufacturing sector earnings. Annual growth of 3.0% was the strongest since 2009, and up from 1.0% in 2012. Leisure & hospitality earnings jumped 0.4% and the annual gain accelerated to 3.3%. Professional & business services earnings rose 0.2%, but annual growth of 2.1% was diminished from last year's 2.7% high. Financial sector earnings rose 0.2%, and the annual gain of 2.7% was up slightly from last year.

The household sector employment survey indicated that the steady 5.0% unemployment rate reflected a 316,000 decline (+1.7% y/y) in employment, and a 362,000 drop (+1.2% y/y) in the labor force. The labor force participation rate fell to 62.8%, reversing most of the gains in the prior two months. The number of persons not in the labor force jumped 562,000, also to the highest level since January. The average duration of unemployment fell to 27.7 weeks, down from 39.4 weeks in both 2011 and 2012.

The unemployment rate for individuals over age 25 remained steady at 4.1%. That was down from 8.2% averaged in 2010. For teenagers, the 15.9% rate was lower than the 25.9% during all of 2010.

By educational attainment, unemployment for those without a high school diploma of 7.4% was down from the 2010 average of 14.8%. For high school graduates but no college, the 5.4% jobless rate was reduced from the 2010 average high of 10.3%. A 4.1% unemployment rate for individuals with some college, but no bachelors degree, was down from 8.4% in 2010. College graduates realized 2.4% unemployment, down from 4.7% in 2010.

The labor market data is contained Haver's USECON database. Detailed figures are in the EMPL and LABOR databases. The expectations figure is in the AS1REPNA database.

What Does Online Job Search Tell Us about the Labor Market? from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is available here.

Employment: (SA, M/M Change, 000s) Apr Mar Feb Apr Y/Y 2015 2014 2013
Payroll Employment 160 208 233 1.9% 2.1% 1.9% 1.6%
 Previous -- 215 245 -- -- -- --
 Manufacturing 4 -29 -16 -0.2 1.1 1.4 0.8
 Construction 1 41 13 4.1 4.8 5.0 3.7
 Private Service-Producing 174 184 242 2.5 2.5 2.1 2.1
 Government -11 24 11 0.5 0.5 0.0 -0.3
Average Weekly Hours - Private Sector 34.5 34.4 34.4 34.5
34.5 34.5 34.5
Private Sector Average Hourly Earnings (%) 0.3 0.2 0.0 2.5 2.3 2.1 2.1
Unemployment Rate (%) 5.0 5.0 4.9 5.4
5.3 6.2 7.4
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