Waiter and waitress nation: The May payrolls report shows the US creating jobs, just not many good ones

AEI –

by James Pethokoukis

The headline numbers for the May jobs report are about what you would expect for a New Normal economy stuck in 2% growth mode: 175,000 net new jobs last month, the unemployment rate ticking up to 7.6%. No broad signs of acceleration; just the opposite, in fact. As Barclays bank points out, the three-month average increase in nonfarm payrolls through May is now 155,000 vs. a first-quarter average of 207,000. (And at May’s pace of job creation, it would take another 58 months to get back to 5% unemployment.)

In addition, hours worked grew at a 1.9% annualized rate in April and May versus the 3.6% growth seen in the first three months of the year. This downshift reflects a slowing in GDP growth. The bank’s tracking estimate for real GDP growth in the second quarter stands at 1.2%, down from 2.4% in the first quarter.

And what kind of jobs are being created? As economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, job growth was again narrowly concentrated, with the restaurant sector (38,100 jobs), retail trade (27,700) and temporary employment (25,600) accounting for more than half of the job growth in May. Baker: “These are all low-paying sectors. It is worth noting that the job growth reported in these sectors is more an indication of the weakness of the labor market than the type of jobs being generated by the economy. The economy always creates bad jobs, but in a strong labor market workers don’t take them.”

Indeed, restaurant jobs make up just under a tenth of total US nonfarm jobs, but they accounted for more than a fifth of the jobs created last month.

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