Unemployment rises to 8.2 percent in May as job growth stalls

Posted June 01, 2012, at 3:07 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The nation’s unemployment rate rose for the first time in nearly a year, to 8.2 percent in May, as the economy added a disappointingly small number of jobs for the third straight month.

The government said Friday that employers created on net just 69,000 jobs last month — less than half of what analysts were expecting. What’s more, the Labor Department revised downward the job-growth numbers for the prior two months, putting the average monthly job growth at 96,000 for the last three months. In the prior three-month period, from December to February, the economy added an average of 252,000 jobs a month.

The May jobless rate ticked up from 8.1 percent in April, after steadily declining since last August, when the unemployment figure was 9.1 percent.

The latest data are certain to heighten fears that the economy has slipped into a dangerous spring stall similar to the prior two years — and it could create trouble for President Obama and his reelection bid. The president is Friday scheduled to visit a Honeywell manufacturing facility in Minnesota, where he is expected to talk about creating more job opportunities for veterans.

With Europe still on the ropes with its debt problems, and the big economies in China and India slowing, global economic growth is weakening and presents a serious threat to the American economy. The government said Thursday that U.S. gross domestic product, or economic output, grew at a sluggish 1.9 percent annualized rate in the first quarter.

Friday’s jobs report showed weakening activity in a wide variety of industries. Construction payrolls, which got a lift from the unseasonably warm winter weather, fell by 28,000 in May. Hiring stalled at professional and business services, which include many higher-paying jobs, such as accounting and engineering services. Government continued to shed jobs, eliminating an additional 13,000 jobs last month. Job growth in manufacturing slowed to 12,000 after adding 42,000 jobs a month on average in the first quarter.

The only major bright spots were in transportation and warehousing, which added 36,000 jobs last month, and in healthcare and social-assistance businesses, which beefed up payrolls by 34,000.

For all private-sector workers, the average workweek slipped a notch to 34.4 hours last month. And the average hourly earnings in May rose by just 2 cents, to $23.41. That’s an increase of 1.7 percent from a year ago, less than the annual inflation rate.

©2012 Tribune Co.

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