The increase was well within the range economists were expecting in advance of this morning’s release of the Labor Department’s monthly employment report. Economists also correctly predicted the continuing drop in the national unemployment rate to 5.4 percent, the lowest since April 2008.
Investors responded to the positive report by pushing up the price of stocks. The Dow was up more than 200 points this morning on news of the jobs report.
Most major industry sectors saw gains, though manufacturing was barely in the plus category, adding a mere 1,000 jobs. The biggest losses were in mining, where layoffs and furloughs in the oil and gas fields, cut 15,000 jobs.
On the plus side, the biggest jobs gains came in construction and health care, which added a combined 90,200 jobs.
Builders brought on 45,000 workers, most in the specialty trades and divided almost equally between residential and non-residential construction.
In healthcare, more than half the new jobs were in ambulatory care facilities, including doctor’s offices and outpatient clinics. Hospitals added 11,800 jobs.
Other big gainers:
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- Food and drinking places +26,000.
- Temp help grew by 16,100.
- Retailers added 12,100 workers, with half in garden centers, home improvement, and food and beverage stores, a sure sign summer is near.
- Computer jobs increased 9,100.
- The finance and insurance sector added 9,500.
The report was a welcome sign, after several other reports in recent weeks suggested the economy was slowing. Last week the Department of Commerce said the U.S. economy grew at a meager .2 percent in the first quarter of the year, after increase by 2.2 percent between October and December last year. Even that slight growth is likely to be reduced when the Commerce Department issues its subsequent updates.
Even the disappointing initial jobs report for March, which came in at 126,000, was lowered. Today’s April employment report included revisions for February and March. The Labor Department cut March to 89,000, while adding 2,000 to February’s numbers. That lowered the initial reports for the two months by 39,000 jobs.
Economists, however, suspect that the brutal winter weather was at least partially responsible for the first quarter’s reduced activity. In addition, there was a West coast port strike that limited the availability of some goods, and the rising value of the dollar made U.S. exports more expensive.
Today’s jobs report also showed employers were still reluctant to raise wages. Average hourly pay increased by 3 cents in April to $24.87, in line with the 2.2 percent annual rate that has been the norm since the recession.