Despite Unemployment Bump, Jobs Report Strong

The government's official jobs report released this morning shows employers did a lot of hiring in April. The number of jobs on government and business payrolls increased by a net 290,000 — that's the biggest increase in four years. The improvement drew more people into the labor force, pushing the unemployment rate up a bit.

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Employers have started hiring again in a big way. The government's official jobs report released this morning shows payrolls expanded by 290,000 last month. That's the strongest job growth in more than four years.

The pickup in hiring drew a lot more people into the labor force and that explains why the unemployment rate went up, not down. Still, President Obama said the numbers are heartening.

President BARACK OBAMA: We now know that the economy has been growing for the better part of a year. And the steady growth is starting to give businesses the confidence to expand and to hire new people.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports on these latest numbers and what they tell us about who's hiring and who's holding back.

TAMARA KEITH: For months the economic numbers have been positive, but the jobs numbers, not so much. That is until now.

Mr. BERNARD BAUMOHL (Economic Outlook Group): I think we can safely say that this is no longer a jobless recovery.

KEITH: Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group is in a pretty mood good today.

Mr. BAUMOHL: The numbers that came out today were not only impressive, but what was equally surprising was a significant revision that showed that employment was even better in some of the previous months.

KEITH: With the revised numbers, it now appears the economy has generated more than 500,000 jobs so far this year. And only about 100,000 of them were temporary census jobs. Brian Silverstein(ph) just started work at a steel factory.

Dr. BRIAN SILVERSTEIN (Mechanical Engineer): This is a company that buys coils of flat rope steel, curls them up, runs the well deep down the side and turns them into pipes.

KEITH: Silverstein is a mechanical engineer with a PhD and had been looking for work for more than a year.

Dr. SILVERSTEIN: I am thrilled. I am going to do my best for the company and make sure I am worth every penny they pay me.

KEITH: In April, the fabricated metals industry where Silverstein now works generated 9,000 jobs. It was a bright spot in a manufacturing sector that itself was a bright spot in the jobs report. Dave Huether is the chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Mr. DAVE HUETHER (Chief Economist, National Association of Manufacturers): The gain was fairly strong. We had 44,000 increase, which was the best gain in about a dozen years.

KEITH: He says the job growth was concentrated in durable goods and was driven largely by exports. Dow Corning has hired about 200 people since the start of the year to work in a component that goes into solar panels. Mary Lou Benecke is a company vice president.

Ms. MARY LOU BENECKE (Vice President, Dow Corning): This polycrystalline silicon when it's produced is expensive. It's expensive to buy. And we're shipping the majority of it overseas.

KEITH: The company expects to hire about another thousand people over the next couple of years.

Ms. BENECKE: We're looking for a lot of high tech engineers. Skilled trades are in very high demand here.

KEITH: But others express only cautious optimism. Steve Schulte is president of Porta King Building Systems in St. Louis. They make modular buildings used in factories.

Mr. STEVE SCHULTE (President, Porta King Building Systems): Six, seven months ago it was certainly a pretty bleak picture. But today we are seeing an increase activity, which is a good barometer for the future.

KEITH: Still, he's down 45 employees and his facilities are operating at less than half of capacity. He wants to bring people back.

Mr. SCHULTE: But I am not confident enough to bring on additional people this time till we see more consistency in the order backlog.

KEITH: Tom Duesterberg of the Manufacturers Alliance says it's important to remember where the industry has been lately.

Mr. TOM DUESTERBERG (Manufacturers Alliance): All told, we've lost 2.2 million manufacturing jobs. We've gotten about 100,000 of them back in the last three months. So we're on the right path. But there is a long way to go.

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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