US job gains surge past expectations, wage growth quickens

FILE PHOTO: A “Help Wanted” sign hangs in restaurant window in Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The U.S. economy created far more jobs than expected in May and annual wage growth reaccelerated, underscoring the resilience of the labor market and reducing the likelihood the Federal Reserve will be able to start rate cuts in September.

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday also showed the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.0% from 3.9% in April, a symbolic threshold below which the jobless rate had previously held for 27 straight months.


The unexpectedly strong report made plain that while the labor market has softened around the edges in recent months, its still-solid performance is set to underpin economic growth and keep the Fed on the sidelines and taking its time in deciding when to begin lowering borrowing costs. The hotter-than-expected wage gains also raised the prospect that elevated inflation may prove stickier than hoped although the impact from the rise in the unemployment rate could temper that.

Financial markets slashed the odds of a September rate cut, reducing the probability to about 53% from about 70% before the report, based on rate futures contracts, and now see roughly an even chance of two rate cuts by the end of 2024, versus about a 68% chance seen before the report.

“So much for slowing. The headline payrolls number is eye popping…. The Fed will take this to mean that they can still focus squarely on inflation without worrying much about growth,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management.

The yield on the 2-year Treasury note, which is sensitive to Fed policy expectations, shot up by the most in two months. Yields across other maturities rose sharply as well. The report put stocks on the defensive after a rally led by the AI sector that had carried major indexes to record highs this week. The dollar strengthened broadly.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 272,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Revisions showed 15,000 fewer jobs created in March and April combined than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls advancing by 185,000. Estimates ranged from 120,000 to 258,000. May’s employment gains were higher than the 232,000 monthly average for the past year.



Hiring was widespread across the economy, with a measure of its diversity at its highest level since January last year. The healthcare sector added 68,000 jobs, spread across ambulatory healthcare services, hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities. It continued to lead employment gains as companies seek to boost staffing levels after losing workers during the pandemic.

Government payrolls increased by 43,000 positions. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector rose by 42,000 jobs, with slightly more than half that total coming from employment in food services and drinking places.

Professional and business services hired 32,000 more workers, driven by management, scientific and technical consulting services and architectural and engineering-related services. Social assistance and retail hiring also trended up last month. There were small job losses at department stores and home furnishings retailers.

The U.S. central bank is expected to leave its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged at its meeting next week in the current 5.25%-5.50% range, where it has been since last July.

Average hourly earnings rose 0.4% after having slowed to a 0.2% rate in April. Wages increased 4.1% in the 12 months through May following an upwardly revised 4.0% annual rise the prior month. Wage growth in a 3.0%-3.5% range is seen as consistent with the Fed’s 2% inflation target. The average workweek was unchanged at 34.3 hours.

“Accelerating pay growth could be a sign of inflationary pressures ready to rebound if the Fed takes their foot off the brake. On the other hand, higher unemployment could signal weaker wage growth ahead, softer consumer demand, and less pricing power for businesses, which would cool inflation,” said Bill Adams, chief economist at Comerica Bank.

The U.S. central bank is closely monitoring labor market conditions and economic growth to ensure it doesn’t keep rates too high for too long and overcool the economy.

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