U.S. gains 2.5 million jobs in May; unemployment declines

Don Jacobson
Harry's Bar and Restaurant in Washington, D.C., is open for business on May 29 after the first stage of a reopening plan began in the nation's capital. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
Harry's Bar and Restaurant in Washington, D.C., is open for business on May 29 after the first stage of a reopening plan began in the nation's capital. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

June 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. economy gained 2.5 million jobs during the month of May, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report -- a major surprise to economists and the first labor increase since February.

The report also said U.S. unemployment declined to 13.3 percent. The figure represents the largest month-to-month increase since the 1930s.


Many analysts expected between 7-8 million job losses in May, following a record decline of more than 20 million in April.

"These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it," the department said.

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"In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade. By contrast, employment in government continued to decline sharply."

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared by more than 1,000 points after the report's release.

"This leads us on to a long period of growth. We will go back to having the greatest economy anywhere in the world," President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Friday. "I think we are going to have a very good upcoming few months ... a very good August, a very good July, maybe a spectacular September, but a spectacular October, November, December and next year is going to be one of the best year's we have ever had economically."

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Economists had prepared for potentially historic lows in Friday's report. Estimates had projected May's official unemployment rate would climb from 14.7 percent to 19.5 percent, with experts saying the true rate -- when accounting for workers who consider themselves "employed but absent" from work during COVID-19 business shutdowns -- would probably be near 25 percent.

An official unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent would have been the highest since the Great Depression, when the rate is estimated to have peaked at an all-time high of 25 percent in 1933.

Instead, the Labor Department said the unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percent for the month.

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Friday's booming assessment caught just about all observers and analysts by surprise.

"I have been watching and parsing [jobs] reports on a monthly basis for more than 15 years and I have never seen such a surprising deviation," Jason Ware, chief investment officer and partner at Albion Financial Group, told UPI.

"It seems the damage from the nationwide lockdown was not as severe or as lasting as we feared a month ago," Scott Clemons of Brown Brothers Harriman told CNBC.

Some offered skepticism about the accuracy of the report as it's unclear who was counted as unemployed.

"Top line numbers ... are counter to all expectations I saw," tweeted Allianz Chief Economic Adviser Mohamed El-Erian. "In sum, a head-scratcher that needs analysis."

Economist Simon Rosenberg said nearly 9 million fewer workers were counted as unemployed than were recorded as having received benefits.

"Despite their continuing eligibility for unemployment insurance, those 9 million Americans were no longer in the workforce, so they did not have to be counted as unemployed," he tweeted. "Recognizing those people as among the unemployed raises the rate 5.7 pts to 19%."

Friday's report showed that unemployment declined among Caucasians and increased among black Americans to 16.8 percent, the highest level since 2010.

ADP and Moody's Analytics reported Wednesday that U.S. companies cut only 2.7 million jobs last month, substantially under expectations. The private report from ADP and Moody's, however, has often differed significantly from Labor Department figures.

World moves to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

Visitors wear face masks as they tour the Whitney Museum of American Art as it reopens on September 3. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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