U.S. Added 263,000 Jobs in April; Unemployment Rate at 3.6%

The Labor Department released the April data on hiring and unemployment on Friday morning, providing an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the economy.

  • Average hourly earnings rose by 0.2 percent, which follows an increase of 0.1 percent in March. Over the last 12 months, earnings have risen by a healthy 3.2 percent, a hair’s breadth from the best level of the recovery.

Employers added 263,000 jobs last month, underscoring the economy’s resilience after some analysts had feared earlier in the year that a slowdown was coming. The latest data suggest that the economy is showing robust growth, and provides a talking point for Republicans and President Trump as the 2020 presidential campaign nears.

[Here’s a primer on where the numbers come from and what they mean.]

Payrolls have now risen for 104 quarters in a row, and the economy has created more than 20 million jobs since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Hiring data for March was revised down slightly, while February’s weak 33,000 reading was revised to 56,000.

“It’s much more exciting than anyone had expected,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank. “No matter how you slice and dice this, it looks like the economy is doing fine.”

Earlier in the year, analysts were worried about headwinds like a slowdown in Europe, the trade war with China and Brexit. This report should put those fears to bed — at least for the time being.

“It doesn’t mean these risks are gone, but it seems like the economy is rebounding from the turbulence of the first quarter,” Mr. Slok said.

As good as the dip in the unemployment rate looks, the factors behind it aren’t as hopeful as the headline number itself. There was a big drop in the number of people who said they were looking for work. The labor-force participation rate, which measures the share of people 16 and older who are employed or seeking a job, fell to 62.8 percent, from 63 percent in March.

“The drop in the unemployment rate was encouraging, but it was for bad reasons,” said Michelle Meyer, head of United States economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “The lower participation rate is a little bit of a disappointment but it’s a volatile number.”

One-time factors may have stimulated hiring in some parts of the economy. Gregory Daco, chief United States economist at Oxford Economics, noted that the 34,000 increase in leisure and hospitality jobs might suggest that restaurants and hotels were staffing up earlier in the month for Easter, which fell late in the month.

Mr. Trump was quick to point to the bullish data, declaring “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” on Twitter about an hour after the Labor Department published the numbers.

[The continued boom in the American job market suggests that economic policymakers need to be open about when the lessons of history no longer apply, says the Upshot’s economics correspondent.]

After a round of jitters in late 2018 and early this year, investors and consumers have been feeling more confident about the economy’s trajectory.

Last week, the Commerce Department reported that the economy expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter, well above forecasts. And on Thursday, the government said factory orders jumped 1.9 percent in March, the best monthly showing since August 2018.

Stocks have rallied sharply this year as recession fears have dimmed, with the seeming return of the not-too-hot, not-too-cold scenario favored by traders. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve essentially endorsed that view by leaving interest rates unchanged and reiterating that it was comfortable with where rates stood.

“It appears that risks have moderated somewhat,” the Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell, said. “Our outlook, and my outlook, is a positive one, is a healthy one, for the U.S. economy for the rest of this year.”

Despite that more sanguine outlook, inflation is running below the Fed’s 2 percent target, dimming the odds of a rate increase soon. Investors would like to see a rate cut, as would President Trump, but Mr. Powell indicated that is equally unlikely. The strong jobs report puts a rate cut further out of reach.

It’s not just the markets that have shrugged off the earlier anxiety. Businesses have, too.

At Two Men and a Truck, a national moving company based in Lansing, Mich., business slowed early this year as the government shutdown and rocky stock market led people to put off moves. But that caution didn’t last: Business rebounded in March and surged in April, said Randy Shacka, the company’s president.

“Mid-April, just something switched,” Mr. Shacka said. “It’s been gangbusters.”

The company is racing to hire some 5,000 people for what it anticipates will be a record summer moving season. For the first time this year, it is holding recruiting events where it plans to hire qualified applicants on the spot. At the first event, in Lansing in April, the company made 30 job offers, and it aimed to hire 1,000 people in Texas at several events on Wednesday.

“We’re right in the midst of this crazy time of hiring,” Mr. Shacka said.

Not long ago, economists were worried that the recovery was producing few high-paying positions even as payrolls expanded. Those concerns have grown more distant as average hourly earnings have climbed at a faster pace in recent months.

[One challenge has been to provide better-paid jobs to workers without a bachelor’s degree. Here’s a look at where to find them.]

Businesses are wrestling with what has become a job-seeker’s market, according to Amy Glaser, a senior vice president at staffing company Adecco.

“The candidates are 100 percent in the driver’s seat,” she said. “If employers don’t respond to job applicants in 48 hours, they’re gone. Somebody else has called with a better offer. Or if you schedule an interview too far out, they ghost you.”

As a result, employers have been dangling some notable perks, she added. Among them are upgraded cafeterias, day care, and subsidies for essentials like gas and parking. Call-center managers are letting more employees work from home.

Candidates who might have otherwise been stuck on the sidelines for lack of experience are getting a second look, said Martha Gimbel, research director at Indeed, the job-search site. Fast-growing search terms include “anything full time,” “office jobs no experience” and “hiring immediately no experience.”

Ben Casselman contributed reporting.

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