Employers Add Jobs; Unemployment Climbs

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The economy added nearly a quarter-million jobs in April — far more than most economists expected. The increase didn't keep the unemployment rate from moving higher, though.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

The nation's labor market continues to improve, at least in the private sector. The Labor Department said today that U.S. companies added new jobs to their payrolls in April, at a rate not seen in five years. But the new numbers also came with a statistical fluke that has economists scratching their heads. Even though employers added nearly a quarter of a million jobs, the unemployment rate actually went up.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Before the release of today's report, there were signs suggesting the air was going out of the labor market. But the numbers turned out to be better than most people expected. Employers added 244,000 jobs to their payrolls in April, which is above the number needed to keep pace with population growth.

And the Labor Department also said job creation was better than first thought, in February and March. Austan Goolsbee is chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Mr. AUSTAN GOOLSBEE (Chairman, White House Council of Economic Advisers): The last three months, we've added more than a quarter million jobs on average, every month. That's very heartening - and the fact that it was really, across a whole lot of different industries.

ZARROLI: There was growth in practically every sector of the economy, including health care, retail and manufacturing. Professional and business services added 51,000 jobs. The electronics and engineering giant Siemens has seen an increase in orders. Daryl Dulaney, president and CEO of Siemens Industry, says the company is actively recruiting employees, especially in skilled fields like engineering.

Mr. DARYL DULANEY (President and CEO, Siemens Industry): We have, at present, over 3,000 job openings. So the growth in the business is really driving the job growth. We have added about a thousand new job openings in just the last two quarters.

ZARROLI: The report sent stock prices soaring, though they later reversed most of their gains. For all of the positive news in the report, it also contained a paradox. Even though the number of payroll jobs increased, the nation's unemployment rate rose from 8.8 to 9 percent. Most economists consider the payroll number a better indicator of how the labor market is fairing.

Labor economist Heidi Shierholz, of the Economic Policy Institute, says there's no clear explanation for why the numbers diverge. But she says no matter what is happening, the job market still has a long way to go to fully recover.

Ms. HEIDI SHIERHOLZ (Labor Economist, Economic Policy Institute): It is still a very inhospitable environment for job-seekers right now. We still have over four unemployed workers for every job opening.

ZARROLI: Today's report came after weeks of disappointing economic news. Just last week, the government said the growth rate slowed sharply during the first three months of the year. Meanwhile, the number of people filing unemployment claims has been rising.

These reports had suggested that the recovery might not be as strong as expected. The April jobs report has helped ease such fears but hasn't eliminated them altogether.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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