US labor market recovery picks up steam, adding 559,000 jobs in May

Recruiters looking to fill positions at O’Hare International Airport meet with candidates during a job fair at the airport on May 19 in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

(CNN) -- America's job market recovery picked up some steam in May, with 559,000 positions added back to the economy.

It was a second sizable miss of analyst expectations after a big disappointment in April. Economists had predicted 650,000 jobs added in May.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.8%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. This is the lowest rate of joblessness since March 2020, when it stood at 4.4% and full effect of the pandemic lockdown hadn't happened yet.

Nevertheless, America is still down 7.6 million jobs compared with February 2020.

The labor force participation rate stood at 61.6% in May, showing that the unemployment rate went down not because people dropped out of the workforce but because they found jobs.

Still, it was a big improvement from the revised 278,000 jobs added in April. The initial read of 266,000 jobs last month was the biggest miss versus expectations since Refinitiv started recording that data in 1999.

The biggest job gains happened in the the leisure and hospitality industry with 292,000 jobs added back, mostly at restaurants and bars.

As things are going more back to normal, with non-pandemic health care needs and more in-person schooling, the health care and education sectors also added jobs. Construction and retail shedded jobs.

The labor market is in a weird spot, showing just how uneven and awkward the recovery is.

Even though millions of people remain unemployed or have had to leave the labor force, businesses complain of worker shortages. Companies are raising wages to attract and retain employees.

Meanwhile, various states have announced they will end the pandemic era expanded jobless benefits before the official expiry in September. Whether that will spur a jump in job applicants remains to be seen.

Critics of higher unemployment aid say the bigger payments have kept people sitting on their couches. But the pandemic isn't over yet and workers are still balancing health and exposure risks, as well as child care, with going back to work.

Hopes are high that the full return to in-person schooling in September will allow those kept at home due to care responsibilities to rejoin the labor force.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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