For workers age 55 and older, there was good news too: about 203,000 more of them were employed in April amid a jobless rate that remained unchanged at 6.5 percent.
But for still-jobless older workers, April brought bad news concerning average duration of unemployment: It exceeded the one-year mark. People in the 55-plus group had on average been out of a job for 53.6 weeks as of April, compared with 51.1 weeks the month before. For people under 55, the duration rose to 39.4 weeks last month from 37.8 weeks in March.
The rise in the overall unemployment rate as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was not unexpected. "As confidence grows in the labor market and job growth improves, we expect more job seekers [who stopped looking for work] to enter the labor force," says Michael Bratus, an economist at Moody's Analytics outside Philadelphia. If the newcomers exceed the number of new jobs created, the unemployment rate is pushed up.
But a bigger reason for the rate’s rise was findings of a survey of American households that is part of the government’s monthly unemployment report. While employers were reporting 244,000 new hires, answers given in households suggested that about 190,000 fewer Americans were working in April than in March. Sometimes the employer and household surveys yield conflicting results; the employer survey is generally taken as the better indication of hiring trends.
On the bright side, the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that planned company layoffs fell to 36,490 in April, the third-lowest level in 16 months. The April job-cut total was down 5 percent from the same month a year ago. Year-to-date, employers announced 167,239 job cuts, 24 percent fewer than the 219,509 layoffs by the same time last year.
Where the new jobs are
The growth was all in the private sector.
Retailers created the most jobs (57,000) in April, particularly in electronics and appliance stores, garden and building supply stores, and in auto dealerships.
Professional and business services providers added 51,000 jobs last month. Since a low point in September 2009, 745,000 positions were added to that sector, the BLS said.
The leisure and hospital industries added 46,000 to their payrolls and health care companies created 37,000 new jobs. Manufacturers increased employment by 29,000.
Layoffs continued in the public sector, mostly in cash-strapped local and state governments. As many as 24,000 public jobs were lost last month, the BLS said.
Job numbers are generally headed up, but economist Steven Ricchiuto of Mizuho Securities USA in New York says that economic growth "is still so far behind where we should be."
The rate of new jobs added to the economy is not enough to drive the jobless rate lower. He criticized corporations for chasing record earnings by relying on fewer workers for increased output.