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Hiring slowed in April, but economists say the job market is still solid

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Hiring slowed down last month. A report from the Labor Department today shows that employers added 175,000 jobs in April. That is the smallest increase in six months. The report also included a historic milestone for working women. To get more details, we're joined now by NPR's Scott Horsley. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so the economy added a lot fewer jobs in April than the month before, right? Is that something we should worry about?

HORSLEY: Probably not. Forecasters have been predicting a slowdown for a while now. In fact, they were caught off guard by the surprisingly strong job gains in January, February and March. Some of this is probably just a matter of timing. For example, we had a fairly mild winter, so construction companies maybe hired people in March that they usually would have hired in April.

CHANG: Oh.

HORSLEY: Julia Coronado, of MacroPolicy Perspectives says, even with this slowdown last month, the job numbers still look pretty good.

JULIA CORONADO: The job gains are broad based and very few signs of mass layoffs in any sector. So it's still a healthy labor market where people have jobs, they're getting jobs, and they're spending their money. So the economy is very stable, but it's not as hot as it was before.

CHANG: So then, is it fair to say the job market is cooling off but, I don't know, hasn't gone ice cold yet?

HORSLEY: Yeah, that's right. And one sign of that is the slowdown in wage growth last month. Average wages in April were up 3.9% from a year ago. That's more than enough to keep pace with price increases, so it's still good for workers, but it's not such a big pay raise as to further fuel inflation. Investors are hoping that this might make it easier for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates later this year. So that gave a boost to the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped to 450 points today.

CHANG: Oh. Are there industries that are still adding a lot of jobs?

HORSLEY: Health care was the biggest gainer last month, adding 56,000 jobs. Health care has been very consistent. It's averaged more than 60,000 jobs every month for the last year. Remember, during the peak of the COVID crisis, there was a lot of turnover in health care. People got sick or burned out. In 2021, more than a quarter of all registered nurses quit their jobs.

But health care employment has bounced back pretty strongly. There are about 1 million more health care jobs now than there were before the pandemic, and it's likely to keep growing. According to the Indeed hiring lab, registered nurses are still among the most sought-after job candidates in the country.

CHANG: Let's talk about the unemployment rate because it inched up in April to 3.9%. What should we make of that?

HORSLEY: Unemployment is still very low by historical standards. You know, it's now been under 4% for 27 consecutive months. The good news is, even as employers have added a ton of jobs, we've also added a ton of workers, either new immigrants coming into the country or people who are already here coming off the sidelines and entering the workforce.

One highlight in today's report is the share of working-age women, 25 to 54, who are in the job market hit an all-time high last month, 78%. Now, there are probably a lot of reasons for that, but Julia Coronado thinks one factor might be the growing number of jobs that let people work part-time or work from home.

CORONADO: This type of flexibility is effective in creating better opportunities for women who are sometimes balancing a variety of responsibilities. So it looks like more flexibility in the workforce leads to more workforce engagement, which is absolutely great news for the economy.

HORSLEY: This is still an economy that's adding a lot of jobs, so it's important we keep finding ways to attract people to fill them.

CHANG: That is NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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