Temp Hiring Resumes Upward Growth, But April Jobs Numbers Lack Luster

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May 4, 2012

Hiring by staffing and employment agencies continued its upward trajectory during April, but even the strong showing couldn’t overcome the generally sluggish hiring by American businesses last month.

The U.S. Department of Labor in its monthly report out this morning said 115,000 new jobs were created in April, well below the 160,000 or so that economists, on average, were expecting.

The report also showed the unemployment rate dipping from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent, mostly due to workers leaving the labor force. The share of Americans now in the labor force is at the lowest level since 1981, the New York Times reported.

Hiring by staffing agencies alone added 21,000 jobs during the month. Hiring by employment services (nurse registries, etc.) accounted for just under 7,000 more.

The April temp numbers reversed the surprise reduction last month in temp jobs. The Labor Department, which initially reported a loss of 7,000 temp jobs in March, revised that to a 9,400 loss in today’s report. It was the biggest drop in temp jobs since June, 2009.

Even so, the staffing industry has been averaging 24,000 new jobs a month since the beginning of the year. That’s 50% higher than for the same period in 2011, when the average was 16,200.

Manufacturing jobs also grew, increasing by 16,000 jobs. In other areas where independent recruiters and search firms have a strong presence, new job growth showed significant strength. Hiring for legal services, accounting, computer systems, engineering, and other professional and technical services was up by 27,500 jobs.

The government numbers — and the temp hiring growth — offered more evidence that the becalmed recovery isn’t about to spark, but neither is it about to slip backwards. In releasing its initial April estimates, the government revised upward the job number for February and March by a combined 53,000. That put the average monthly growth since January at 201,000 jobs, more than half again the average of the same months a year ago.

“We’re still growing just gradually,” Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, told Reuters. “Hiring is coming back into line with what you would expect with sluggish growth.”

“It’s a pretty sluggish report over all,” said Andrew Tilton, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs.

Governments continued to shed jobs, losing 15,000, offsetting the 130,000 private sector jobs added in April. (ADP earlier this week, predicted the economy added 119,000 private sector positions.)

Retail added 29,300 jobs, mostly in general merchandise stores; hiring by hotels, motels and food and drink establishments increased by 26,700 positions.

The biggest loser was transportation and warehousing, off by 16,600 jobs. Other sectors showed small losses (construction was down by 2,000) or were unchanged.

In April, workers on private nonfarm payrolls averaged 44.5 hours unchanged from March, though manufacturing workers averaged an extra .1 hour to 40.8 hours, and factory overtime rose by the same amount to 3.4 hours.

Average hourly earnings for all employees increased a penny to $23.38. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 1.8 percent.

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