U.S. Unemployment Down to 5.4% for 7-Year Low

The U.S. job market rebounded in April, adding 223,000 jobs, according to Labor Department data released May 8. The unemployment rate also improved, decreasing to 5.4% — a seven-year low.

That’s only slightly below economists’ predictions that nonfarm payrolls would rise by around 224,000.

It’s also particularly cheering news given that some earlier indicators, including the ADP National Employment Report released May 6, had shown lower-than-expected figures (that report looks only at private-sector jobs). There were even some indicators that the economy had shrunk in the first quarter of 2015.

Friday’s news was particularly encouraging to investors, since the Labor Department’s report fell into a so-called Goldilocks zone: The rebound was strong enough to allay concerns that the economy is stalling, but likely not so strong that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates soon. The Fed has kept short-term interests rates near zero since 2008, at the onset of the financial crisis.

April gains were not evenly distributed, however.

Professional and business services had a very strong month, adding 62,000 jobs. That can likely be attributed to growth in the financial sector and high demand for college-educated workers. Health care also saw gains, adding 55,600 positions in April — bringing the total for the last three months to 125,000 jobs created in that field alone.

Construction also started seeing better figures after an unusually harsh winter. The building industry added 45,000 workers in April.

Drillers and other oil-related industries, however, continued to cut payrolls, shedding more than 10,000 jobs in April. Energy sector losses were a major factor in the March hiring slump as well.

Most experts are expressing cautious optimism regarding hiring growth. Jobs numbers and unemployment figures only tell part of the story; many highly educated workers are underemployed at the moment, for example, and a changing hiring culture means that by the age of 35, 25% of workers have already held five or more jobs rather than securing a single career. But overall, the economy does appear to be growing at a sustainable pace.

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