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Economy Watch: U.S. Adds 138K Jobs in May

The U.S. economy added a lower-than-expected 138,000 jobs last month, according to official data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The jobless rate, meanwhile, fell to 4.3%, its lowest point in 16 years, although part of the reason for that figure, analysts say, is a labor force participation rate of just 62.7%. The BLS also revised downward March U.S. job gains to 50,000 from a previously-reported 79,000, while April’s tally was lowered to 174,000 from 211,000.

Despite the generally weaker report, there were a handful of positive points. For example, the number of discouraged workers came in as the fewest since 2007 and the number of people working part-time who want a full-time job dropped to a nine-year low. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2% during May, putting year-over-year wage gains at 2.5%. Maybe most significantly, the underemployment rate – a broad measure of joblessness and labor utilization within the economy – decreased to 8.4%.

Within segments, May job creation was boosted by the healthcare sector, which added 24,000 positions last month, and the professional and business services sector, which contributed 38,000 new positions. Conversely, the retail industry continued its stretch of job declines, shedding about 6,000 positions in May.

Overall in 2017, data shows that monthly payroll gains are averaging 162,000, lower than the 2016 monthly pace of 187,000 positions. Still, analysts believe the increases are likely to keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates several times this year in an effort to normalize U.S. monetary policy.