WASHINGTON (AP) _ The unemployment rate rose steeply in May, jumping by half a percentage point to 9.4 percent. The rate was 14.9 percent for African Americans, who recorded the highest unemployment rate of any group.
Yet employers cut far fewer jobs than in recent months.
How can the unemployment rate increase so sharply even as monthly job losses drop by half? And what do these numbers, taken together, tell us about the economy?
The apparent discrepancy between the two employment trends mostly has to do with more people starting to look for work _ and not necessarily because they were laid off. That includes high school and college students entering the work force for the first time.
People who don't have jobs and aren't looking for work, such as students, stay-at-home parents, or those who have simply given up, aren't counted as unemployed in the rate put out by the Labor Department. But once they start job hunting, they start to count _ and that can boost the unemployment rate.
This trend is particularly apparent as recessions bottom out: People hear the economy is improving, so they plunge back into the job market. Yet companies are reluctant to hire until they are sure the economy is truly getting better, so those people have trouble landing jobs, and the jobless rate goes up.
That's why the unemployment rate usually peaks long after a recession has ended. Many economists expect that to happen after the current slowdown, too, potentially sending the jobless rate to 10 percent or higher by early next year.
There's also an important technical factor: The Labor Department's monthly employment report is based on two surveys.
The “household survey'' covers 60,000 households and measures how many people are unemployed, while the “establishment survey'' covers 160,000 businesses and government agencies. That survey gauges how many jobs are gained or lost.
On Friday, the establishment survey found that employers cut a net total of 345,000 jobs _ a huge number, but still about half the average decline in the previous 6 months.
The household survey, meanwhile, counted 787,000 more unemployed people, including 350,000 who entered the labor force in May. That pushed the unemployment rate to 9.4 percent, from 8.9 percent.
Overall, the two results aren't that different: Both show the economy is still hurting and jobs are scarce. They also signal that while employers aren't cutting as many jobs as earlier this year, they are still reluctant to hire.
Here are some other interesting details from Friday's employment report, by the numbers.
MAY UNEMPLOYMENT RATE BY GROUP
9.8 percent: Adult men
7.5 percent: Adult women
11 percent: Female heads of households
6.7 percent: Asians
8.6 percent: Whites
12.7 percent: Hispanics
14.9 percent: Blacks
22.7 percent: Teenagers
MISERY LOVES COMPANY
14.5 million: People unemployed in May 2009, the most ever in records dating to 1948
12.1 million: People unemployed in December 1982, the record before the current downturn
9.4 percent: Unemployment rate in May 2009
10.8 percent: Unemployment rate in December 1982, the highest since World War II
August 1983: Last time the unemployment rate was higher than the current level
WHERE THE JOBS ARE
44,000: Number of jobs added in May in education and health services, one of only two broad job categories _ out of seven _ where the number of jobs went up
3,000: Number of jobs added in leisure and hospitality, the other category to add jobs
GETTING BETTER (SORT OF)
59,000: Construction jobs lost in May
117,000: Average monthly loss of construction jobs in the previous six months
7,000: Temporary jobs lost in May
73,000: Average monthly loss of temp jobs in the previous six months
JOBLESS FOR MONTHS
3.95 million: The number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer
1.32 million: The number unemployed for that long in December 2007, when the recession began
9.1 million: Number of part-time workers who would have preferred full-time work last month
2.2 million: People without jobs who wanted to work, were available and had looked in the last 12 months, but had not looked in the last month.
16.4 percent: Unemployment rate if you include involuntary part-time workers and those without jobs who hadn't looked for work in 12 months _ the highest in records dating to 1994