The U.S. unemployment rate inched up in May, according to labor statistics released June 1, reflecting an economy that continues to stumble on the threshold of recovery.
According to the monthly jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.2 percent of able workers or 12.7 million Americans were unemployed in May, with jobless rates remaining highest among teenagers (24.6 percent), Blacks (13.6) and Hispanics (11.0).
More worryingly, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) rose from 5.1 to 5.4 million in May and accounted for almost half—42.8 percent—of jobless workers.
Economist Heidi Shierholz, of the Economic Policy Institute, said the situation may not be as dismal as it seems. The 0.1 percent boost in the unemployment rate was due to the more than 600,000 people that entered the labor force, thereby raising the labor force participation rate by two-tenths of a percent.
Similarly, Shierholz said, the job creation rate painted a “murky” picture of the labor market.
Only 69,000 jobs were added to the economy in May, compared to 77,000 in April and the average monthly gain of 226,000 in the first quarter of the year.
In May, employment rose in health care, transportation and warehousing, and wholesale trade, while construction lost jobs.
“After a strange winter and early spring – where unseasonably warm winter weather led to unusually strong job growth in January and February that was ‘paid back’ with weaker job growth in March and April – even the May report may not yet be providing a clear picture of the underlying trend,” the EPI economist said in a statement.
“The May jobs figures are likely still being weighed down by seasonal issues, as evidenced by a drop in construction and in leisure and hospitality, so this month’s numbers should not yet be read as a sign of a slowdown,” she added. “Even so, payroll employment growth is nowhere near strong enough to get us to full employment anytime soon.”
The Obama administration warned against reading too much into the monthly jobs report given the volatility of labor statistics and trends. It also reiterated that solving the problems plaguing the job market will not happen overnight.
“Just like last year at this time, our economy is facing serious headwinds, including the crisis in Europe and a spike in gas prices that hit American families’ finances over the past months,” said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a statement. “It is critical that we continue the President’s economic policies that are helping us dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession.”
President Obama’s critics, however, say those policies have proven ineffective.
"Today's extremely troubling jobs report proves yet again that President Obama policies simply are not working and that he has failed to live up to the promise of his candidacy,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
“In early 2009, he promised to fix the economy in three years, and he promised the unemployment rate would be below six percent by now," Priebus and others say in order to address the nation’s joblessness the president needs to encourage free enterprise, particularly by reforming the corporate tax code.
"May's bleak employment figures continue to show the consequences of an uncompetitive and growth-limiting corporate tax rate," said James P. Pinkerton, co-chair of the RATE Coalition and former White House domestic policy adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
"Only last week Ohio-based Eaton Corporation announced its intent to move to Ireland because of its 12.5 percent corporate tax rate – barely more than a third of the U.S. rate – and unless real tax reform is enacted, more companies and job-creating capital will go overseas and job growth will be slow here."