If May is a tipping point that leads to nasty things for the business cycle, it’s not obvious in today’s payrolls report from the Labor Department. Although quite a lot of ink has been spilled in recent weeks about weak numbers from certain sectors in the economy, it appears to be business as usual with jobs creation. Slow growth, in short, continues to persist.
The private sector added a net 178,000 new jobs last month, or roughly in line with expectations. That’s still modest by historical standards, but at least it’s a slight improvement over the past two reports. The headline number that everyone focuses on, which includes government jobs, was only a touch lower, with total payrolls rising by 175,000.
Although analysts move heaven and earth for analyzing payrolls, the plain truth is that the broad trend has remained essentially unchanged through last month. Private payrolls advanced by 1.95% in the year through May, which is more or less what we’ve seen for months. The pace of late has been modestly slower compared with the first half of 2012, but you’d be hard pressed to make the case that rate of increase is deteriorating in any meaningful way.
The main takeaway is that the labor market continues to expand at a modest rate. That’s been true for quite some time and it remains true in today’s update. That’s good news and bad news. It’s certainly encouraging to see the economy creating jobs, but we’re still stuck at a sluggish rate. The month-to-month squiggles inspire fear and hope, depending on the number du jour, but when you step back and consider the overall profile you'll find a rather obvious message in the data: nothing much has changed in the private sector's big picture when it comes to jobs.