June 6, 2014 10:03 pm JST

US May nonfarm payrolls up 217,000; jobless rate holds at 6.3%

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones) --The U.S. economy added jobs at a steady clip in May, providing renewed evidence that the five-year-long recovery accelerated this spring.

     Nonfarm employment advanced a seasonally adjusted 217,000 last month, the Labor Department said Friday. April's gain was revised down slightly to an increase of 282,000 from an initially reported gain of 288,000. Still, April's improvement was the best in more than two years. March's gain was unrevised at 203,000.

     Last month, total U.S. payrolls reached 138.5 million, exceeding the country's previous peak level of employment set in January 2008.

     The jobless rate, obtained from a separate survey of households, was unchanged at 6.3% in May, matching the lowest level since September 2008. The total civilian labor force and the number of people with jobs both increased during May.

     Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had projected payrolls to rise by 210,000 and the jobless rate to climb to 6.4%. Forecasters expected job growth to ease from April because at least part of that month's growth could be attributed to hiring delayed during the unusually cold winter.

     May's improvement surpassed the average monthly gain of about 200,000 during the past year. Steadier job growth will put more money into consumers' pockets and improve confidence, which could support stronger economic gains later in the year.

     The U.S. economy has grown at a little better than 2% pace since the recovery began in mid-2009. In the second half of last year, growth improved to a 3.4% pace, raising hopes for a breakout. But a brutal winter caused first-quarter growth to contract at an annualized 1% rate, the Commerce Department said last week.

     Friday's report showed the share of Americans participating in the labor force held steady at 62.8% in May. Labor force participation rates are near their lowest levels since the late 1970s. The labor force participation rate fell 0.4 percentage point in April from March.

     Federal Reserve officials will be monitoring the workforce and unemployment figures ahead of their June 17-18 policy meetings. The jobless rate is down 1.2 percentage points from a year earlier, typically a sign of an improving labor market. But the labor force participation rate has fallen 0.6 percentage point over the same time. That could suggest potential workers remain on the sidelines.

     The strength of the labor market may influence how the Fed proceeds with winding down its bond-buying program this year and raising its benchmark interest rate, which has been pinned near zero since December 2008.

     A broader measure of unemployment that includes those working part-time but who would prefer full-time jobs fell slightly to 12.2% in May from 12.3% in April.

     The average hourly wage for private sector workers was rose a nickel in May to $24.38. That's up just 2.1% from a year earlier, staying slightly ahead of inflation. The average workweek was unchanged at 34.5 hours.

     Service-sector jobs once again led job growth. The health-care and social-assistance category added 39,000 jobs. Retailers added 12,500 jobs and the transportation and warehousing sector added 16,400.

     Manufacturing added 10,000 jobs and the construction industry added 6,000.

     Government employment held nearly flat last month because increasing local government jobs were mostly offset by cuts at the federal and state levels.