Unemployment fell in April

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Employers added 288,000 jobs in April, with the nation’s unemployment rate falling to 6.3 percent from 6.7 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the lowest mark since September 2008.

But the details of the unemployment rate’s fall made the overall picture murky, as 806,000 people dropped out of the workforce in April and the labor force participation rate fell back to the levels seen in the late 1970s. Both the number of people who reported they are unemployed and looking for work and the number of people had jobs fell, according to the report.

Erica L. Groshen, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, noted that the 2.2 million people who are “marginally attached” to the workforce was barely down from April last year. That term describes people who had not looked for work in the past month but wanted a job, were available for work and had looked in the last year.

Wall Street see-sawed through the day but ended with all the major indexes down. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 45.98 points, or 0.28 percent, to close at 16,512.89. The Standard & Poor’s 500 slipped 2.54 points, or 0.13 percent, to close at 1,881.14. And the Nasdaq lost 3.55 points to close down 0.09 percent at 4,123.90.

The jobs side of the equation was the best news to be found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report. In April, the nation’s employers reported they added 288,000 nonfarm jobs, a number made even more significant because of revisions to the job totals in February and March, revisions that added 36,000 more jobs than had been reported earlier.

Manufacturing, which lost 2.3 million jobs from 2007 until it hit the bottom in 2010, has since regained 647,000 jobs — a rate of recovery that is just a third of the rest of the economy, said Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council in Washington, D.C.

Manufacturing industries added 12,000 jobs in April. Even with those gains, the sector represented just 8.75 percent of all the nonfarm jobs, an all-time low for its share of the economy.

And while manufacturing wages rose during the recession, since that time sector wages have dropped from $10.67 an hour to $10.50 an hour.

Retail trade added 34,500 jobs last month, with 10,500 jobs in clothing stores, 9,000 in food and beverage stores and 8,200 in general merchandise stores.

Other sectors that had net gains were construction (which added 32,000 jobs), health care (187,000 jobs), administrative and waste services (38,600 jobs), leisure and hospitality (28,000 jobs), and government — specifically local governments — which added 12,000 public school employees and 4,800 municipal workers.

The monthly unemployment report does not include any farm data.

But on Friday, the National Agricultural Statistics Service released the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the most recent information available, including the number of people who work on farms. The last farm census was taken in 2007.

The report found 3.2 million farm operators, a number down by 3 percent from 2007, and 2.7 million people working on farms, which was up by 4 percent from 2007.

If the people who worked on farms in 2012 were added into labor force, they would represent 3.6 percent of the labor force. The calculation is not perfect, however, because many people who work on farms also have other jobs.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

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