U.S. job growth picked up in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday morning, with payrolls growing by 288,000.
Those gains were stronger than analysts expected, and the headline numbers added evidence that the labor market is headed for a spring resurgence after a unusually harsh U.S. winter that Obama administration and Federal Reserve officials say took a considerable toll on commercial activity. Other details of the report, however, were not as rosy.
The unemployment rate drifted downward, falling from 6.7 to 6.3 percent. It dropped, however, for the wrong reason: not because more workers found jobs, but because the labor force shrunk by more than 800,000 in April. The labor force participation rate, a measure of all Americans with jobs or seeking work, fell to 62.8 percent, back to multi-decade lows, after rising the previous three months.
Friday's report also revised up the numbers for February and March. Over the past three months, payrolls have averaged roughly 240,000, well above the roughly 180,000 average that has prevailed since the jobs recovery began in late 2010. Over the past year, monthly job gains have been only slightly better, at just under 190,000.
Long-term unemployment, a defining feature of the weak jobs recovery following the economic recovery that technically began in 2009, eased for a second straight month in April, falling sharply by nearly 300,000 to 3.5 million. The number of long-term unemployed, meaning those out of work for 27 weeks or longer, remains historically high as a share of all unemployed workers, at 35 percent. Nevertheless, the ranks of the long-term jobless have decreased by 900,000 over the past year.
The U-6 unemployment rate, a broader measure of underemployment that takes into account those working part time because they can't find full-time work and those only marginally attached to the labor force, edged down in April, from 12.7 to 12.3 percent. The U-6 rate has seen grinding improvement over the past year, falling by 1.3 percentage points.
Weekly hours and earnings for workers were also flat in Friday’s report — another detail weighing against the encouraging headline numbers. Over the past year, average hourly earnings are up just 1.9 percent, according to the BLS.
Job growth was led by the professional and businesses services industry, which added 75,000 jobs, including 24,000 in temp jobs.
Other notable gains came in the construction, health care, and mining industries, according to the BLS' establishment survey.