Employers boosted payrolls in April by the most in two years and the jobless rate plunged to 6.3% as companies grew confident the U.S. economy was emerging from a first-quarter slowdown.
The 288,000 gain in employment was the biggest since January 2012 and followed a revised 203,000 increase the prior month, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 218,000 advance. Unemployment dropped to the lowest level since September 2008.
Households spent more freely as the first quarter drew to a close and manufacturing accelerated, helping explain why companies such as Ford Motor Co. are taking on more workers. The figures corroborate the Federal Reserve’s view that the expansion is perking up after stagnating last quarter, indicating it will keep trimming stimulus.
“The economy is gathering momentum after the bad winter,” said Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Plc in New York, whose firm’s projection was among the closest in the Bloomberg survey. “The unemployment rate will stay in its downward trend, which means tapering will continue.”
Stock-index futures fluctuated and Treasury yields climbed after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in June rising 0.1% to 1,879.3 at 9:15 a.m. in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note increased to 2.68% from 2.61% late yesterday.
The increase in employment was broad-based, with construction companies adding the most workers in three months and retailers taking on the most this year. Manufacturing, temporary help services and health care were among other industries boosting payrolls.
One cloud in today’s employment report is worker pay is stagnating. Average hourly earnings held at $24.31 in April, and were up 1.9% over the past 12 months, the smallest gain this year.
The drop in the unemployment rate from March’s 6.7% came as the agency’s survey of households showed the labor force shrank by more the 800,000 in April. The so-called participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people in the labor force, decreased to 62.8%, matching the lowest level since 1978, from 63.2% a month earlier.
Forecasts for April payrolls ranged from increases of 155,000 to 292,000, according to the Bloomberg survey of 94 economists. Last year, the U.S. added more than 194,000 jobs each month, compared with about 186,000 in 2012. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg on April 4-9 project payroll gains to match 2013.
Private payrolls, which don’t include government agencies, increased 273,000 in April after a 202,000 gain. Last month, hiring by companies surpassed the pre-recession peak for the first time.
Americans are the most upbeat about finding a “quality job” than at any time since January 2008, according to Gallup data released April 25. A separate survey by the Conference Board shows the proportion of consumers who said jobs would become more plentiful in the next six months climbed in April to the highest level since January.
As a human resources specialist, Alan Janzen has first-hand knowledge of the improvement in the labor market. He started a job this week with the city of San Antonio after working as a personal trainer. He sent out 27 applications since beginning his job hunt in February.
“I expected it to be a long and frustrating search, from everything I hear,” said Janzen, 31, who has a master’s degree in human resources.
Such optimism extends to Ford. Boosted by record profits in North America, the second-largest automaker said it will probably hire more than the 12,000 new workers it promised in its 2011 contract with the United Auto Workers.
“The business has grown faster than we predicted it would in 2011,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in an interview on April 30. The company said it hired 2,000 new workers at its factory in Claycomo, Missouri, and that it’s completed about 75% of its commitment to hire 12,000 workers by 2015.
Choice Hotels International, Inc. said employment growth is one reason to be upbeat about the travel industry.
“As we’ve seen employment improve -- and I’m the first one to say it hasn’t moved that much yet, but it’s starting to feel like it is -- that’s going to give us an exaggerated impact based on those folks coming back with jobs and then beginning to travel,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Joyce said on an April 28 earnings call. “We’re optimistic of that.”
Fed policy makers at this week’s meeting said the economy is showing signs of picking up and the job market is improving. The Fed’s Open Market Committee pared its monthly asset-buying to $45 billion, its fourth straight $10 billion cut, and said further reductions in “measured steps” are likely.
Gross domestic product rose at a 0.1% annualized rate from January through March, compared with a 2.6% gain in the prior quarter, the Commerce Department said earlier this week.
“Growth in economic activity has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply,” the Fed said this week in a statement following their meeting in Washington. “Household spending appears to be rising more quickly.”
Household purchases, which account for about 70% of the economy, climbed 0.9% in March, the most since August 2009, the Commerce Department said yesterday. Incomes increased by the most in seven months.
Also yesterday, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed factories added employers in April at the fastest pace in four months. Manufacturing expanded the most this year.