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Economic Report: U.S. job gains in May seen slowing to 13-month low of 328,000

Rising U.S. interest rates and the prospect of slower economic growth in the months ahead suggests hiring is also likely to wane — and that’s what Wall Street expects in May.

Here’s what to watch in the employment report on Friday morning:

Wall Street forecast

The number of new jobs the U.S. created in May is expected to slow to a 13-month low of 328,000, according to a poll of economists by The Wall Street Journal.

By comparison, the economy has added at least 400,000 jobs a month in the past year, and its gained an average of 518,000 a month in 2022.

Yet signs of slower hiring are starting to appear. Some large companies have put hiring freezes in place, a Federal Reserve survey found. And an ADP employment report showed the smallest job creation in May since the start of the pandemic.

“We expect job growth to remain on an upward trajectory,” said chief U.S. economist Rubeela Farooqi of High Freqeuncy Economics, “but the pace is
likely to slow as the Fed continues to raise rates over coming months.”

The bigger problem may still be a major labor shortage, however. Lots of companies that want to hire still say they can’t find enough qualified workers.

The May report could also bring a statistical quirk.

It’s usually the second biggest month of hiring in the entire year, but if the raw increase falls short of what the government expects, the seasonal adjustments tend to make the May jobs figures look a lot worse.

Jobs by industry

Hiring in interest-rate sensitive industries such as housing and finance are likely to slow, especially after strong increases earlier in the year. There’s less demand for construction workers and real estate agents as home sales taper off.

Ditto for retailers and shippers as consumers cut back on purchase of goods in the face of high inflation.

Employment could rise in tourism and travel, however, as the summer vacation season approaches and Americans shift more spending to services and away from goods.

Unemployment rate

Wall Street
DJIA,
+0.09%

expects the U.S. unemployment rate to drop to 3.5% from 3.6% and match the pre-pandemic low in 2020. Before that, the last time the jobless rate was as low was in 1968.

How “tight” is the labor market? If unemployment falls below 3.4%, it would mark the smallest rate since 1953.

Growing labor force

The size of the labor force is expanding again, but it hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.

High inflation and a faltering stock market could spur more people to look for work, economists say, but probably not enough to ease the worst labor shortage in decades.

The share of the working-age population in the labor force stood at 62.2% in April, leaving it more than a full point below the pre-Covid high. That’s the equivalent of about 1.5 million missing workers.

Worker pay

The labor shortage has helped boost the average wage by 5.5% over the past year to $31.85 an hour, marking the biggest increase since the early 1980s.

Economists forecast another sizable 0.4% increase in wages in May, but there are hints that pay gains are starting to wane. A slower economy and slower hiring would almost assure it.

Even the big increase in pay, however, is not enough to keep up with inflation. The cost of living has jumped 8.3% in the past year

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