Labor market losses eased in April with 539,000 jobs axed, while the unemployment rate hit 8.9%, according to data released on May 8, suggesting the economy remains weak but may be stabilizing.
The jobless rate hit its highest level since September 1983 but the pace of job losses slowed appreciably, offering another possible sign of an easing of the severe economic slump. The number of job losses was not nearly as bad as the consensus Wall Street estimate of 600,000 in the Labor Department monthly payrolls report, one of the best indicators of economic momentum.
"Obviously the economy is still contracting, but the rate of decline is easing," said Jay Bryson, economist at Wachovia Securities. "I would say that momentum is shifting. We're not in a freefall, and there are reasons to be optimistic going forward."
The department revised its estimates to show steeper job losses in February and March -- February cuts were 681,000 instead of 651,000 and March losses revised up to 699,000 from 663,000.
The goods-producing sector shed 270,000 jobs including 149,000 in manufacturing and 110,000 in construction. Employment in the services sectors fell by 269,000, the report showed.
The agency said that since the recession began in December 2007, some 5.7 million jobs have been lost. The number of unemployed persons rose to 13.7 million in April, up by six million over the past 12 months.
The number of long-term unemployed -- without jobs for 27 weeks or more -- increased by 498,000 to 3.7 million over the month and has risen by 2.4 million since the start of the recession, the report showed.
On the positive side, the labor force participation rate rose to 65.8% as 683,000 joined the workforce, a sign that more people are looking for employment instead of dropping their job search.
One key figure, average hourly earnings, managed a small gain of one cent to $18.51, a rise described as tepid by analysts.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009