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Job growth improves in May, but falls short of expectations

This morning's report offers at least some relief: job growth in May was twice as strong as the month before. But we're still in a pandemic-era hole.
Image:
A help wanted sign is displayed at car wash in Indianapolis on Sept. 2, 2020.Michael Conroy / AP

Expectations headed into this morning showed projections of about 671,000 new jobs added in the United States in May. As it turns out, according to the new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the preliminary tally suggests the total fell a little short of expectations.

The economy added 559,000 jobs last month, double April's disappointing 266,000, and the unemployment rate ticked down to 5.8 percent from 6.1 percent, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The revisions from the last couple of months were also modestly encouraging: March's job totals were revised from 770,000 to 785,000, while April's tally was revised from 266,000 to 278,000. Combined, that's an additional 27,000 previously unreported new jobs -- on top of the preliminary total from May.

As is always the case, context is everything. The previous report on April's job totals fell far short of expectations, raising widespread questions about the strength of the economic recovery. With those figures in mind, this morning's report offers at least some relief: job growth in May was twice as strong as the month before.

What's more, under normal circumstances, 559,000 new jobs over the course of a single month would be cause for celebration.

But therein lies the rub: the current circumstances are anything but normal, and the economy will need to pick up steam to help get the United States out of the hole we fell into in 2020. As things stand, we're still more than 7 million jobs short of where we were at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the current pace, it will take more than a year to get back to February 2020 levels.

That said, President Biden has proposed an ambitious infrastructure package, called the American Jobs Plan, which would give the employment landscape a dramatic boost. We'll have more on that a little later this morning.

Here's the chart I run every month, showing monthly changes in total jobs since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to monthly changes under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to monthly job changes under the Obama and Biden administrations.