US job rebound surprises experts

US job rebound surprises experts

Figures for May suggest economy might be recovering faster than expected

A “We’re Hiring” sign is seen at the entrance of a restaurant in Miami in May. (Reuters Photo)
A “We’re Hiring” sign is seen at the entrance of a restaurant in Miami in May. (Reuters Photo)

WASHINGTON: America’s labour market unexpectedly rebounded in May, signalling the economy is picking up faster than thought from the depths of the damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 2.5 million after a plunge of 20.7 million in April, which was the largest since records began in 1939, according to Labor Department data on Friday. The jobless rate fell to 13.3% from 14.7%.

Economists’ forecasts had called for a decline of 7.5 million in payrolls and a jump in the unemployment rate to 19%. No one in the survey by Bloomberg had projected improvement in either figure.

Treasury yields and US stock futures jumped after the surprise report, while the dollar spiked against the yen.

The unexpected improvement wasn’t limited to the US figures. North of the border, Canadian employment rose by 290,000 in May, compared with forecasts for a slump of 500,000, Statistics Canada reported Friday.

The US data show an economy pulling back from the brink as states relax restrictions and businesses bring back staff, while supporting a rebound in the stock market.

At the same time, however, the lack of an effective treatment for Covid-19 — which has already killed more than 108,000 people in the US — means infections may persist and possibly surge in a second wave, with the potential to further shake the labour market and extend the economic weakness.

“These improvements in the labour market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

The latest figures may give a boost to President Donald Trump, who has fallen behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden in polls amid the pandemic, recession and now nationwide protests over police mistreatment of African-Americans.

The numbers come amid a debate over the timing and scope of additional stimulus, with Democrats and Republicans at odds following record aid approved by Congress to cushion the impact of the downturn.

Minutes after the release, Trump tweeted: “Really Big Jobs Report!” He plans to hold a news conference to discuss the report.

One caveat noted by the Labor Department: the unemployment rate “would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported” if data were reported correctly, according to the agency’s statement. That refers to workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work due to other reasons, rather than unemployed on temporary layoff.

Unemployment rates declined among adult men and women, white Americans, and slightly for Hispanic and Latino Americans.

But the rate was little changed among African Americans, at 16.8%, the highest since 2010, amid the protests that have also drawn attention to economic disparities.

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