Jobs Added in May, Unemployment at 16-Year Low

That's not the only number that decreased, either. The labor force participation rate in May fell to 62.7%, down from 62.9% in April and 63% in March.

The labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 62.7 per cent. The highest unemployment rate was in El Centro, Calif., at 19.2 percent. Indeed, only 78.4 percent of 25- to 54-year-olds were working last month compared with the 80.2 percent who were in 2007 or the 81.8 percent in 2000. All it can take is a few stray comments about how much more the Fed wants to hike rates or shrink its balance sheet to knock things off course.

The 4.4 percent unemployment rate matches a decade low. To some extent, that's also true of the U-6 rate, which looks at underemployment as well as unemployed, but still uses the workforce total as the denominator. But as May's numbers show, not all of them are finding jobs; some are giving up on their search.

The government report follows one from the day before that showed there were 253,000 private sector job additions during May, up from a downwardly revised level of 174,000 in April, according to payroll processor ADP. But judging by today's response to the job numbers, traders may be having second thoughts about whether the U.S. is at full employment, too. Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.

Almost 80,000 retail jobs have been lost since February, according to the latest figures, and a dozen chains have announced closing or bankruptcy, including Rue21, BCBGMaxAzria, Payless, Wet Seal and H.H.Gregg.

That's not rip-roaring growth, and barely qualifies as growth at all.

Despite the slowdown in job growth last month, the USA economy is running neither too hot nor too cold, with growth holding at a tepid but far from recessionary 2 percent annual rate.

First, the good news.

Maybe the US labor market is turning a bit like Japan's, where the unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in almost a quarter-century, but after so many years of disappointment, workers are hesitant to demand higher wages, and employers are hesitant to give them. The main issue, he said, was that the company couldn't keep its managers, leaving the firm with too few leaders to interview, hire and train associates.

The headline number for some will be the 4.3 percent unemployment rate, a 16-year low.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected an increase of 180,000 in non-farm payrolls, which would have been in line with average monthly gains seen over the past year. Hourly earnings rose two and a half percent over the a year ago. This is the lowest it's been since 2001.

Retail trade lost 6,100 jobs, and the majority were in large department stores.

March's numbers also were revised downward, going from 79,000 to 50,000.

But persistently sluggish wage growth could cast a shadow on further monetary policy tightening.

The report also said average hourly employee earnings rose 0.2 percent in May and were up 2.5 percent year-over-year, unchanged from the previous month. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have risen by 63 cents, or 2.5%. Yet even about 100,000 payroll additions a month would be enough to further nudge down the jobless rate, and the tight market is expected to push upstill-measured wage growth, juicing spending and the economy.

"We're not anxious about slowing job growth", Gary Cohn, director of the White House's National Economic Council, told CNBC.

  • Zachary Reyes