- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2014

A gain of 217,000 jobs last month sent U.S. total employment past its previous peak of 138.4 million, set in January 2008 just after the Great Recession began, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Total employment in the United States in May stood at 138.5 million, a new record. But it took an unusually long six years to recover all 8.7 million job losses caused by the deepest recession since World War II.

“It’s taken an extremely long period of time to gain back all of those jobs, much longer than any other cycle,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets LLC. “It really drives home how painfully slow the process has been.”

In an otherwise unremarkable report showing steady, average job gains during May, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.3 percent.

May’s job growth was close to the average of around 200,000 a month after a job spurt of 282,000 in April that economists attributed to pent-up demand after activity was held back during the long, cold winter.

May’s job gains were concentrated in health care, professional and business services, areas of traditional strength in the U.S. economy.

Government continued to be an area of little or no job gains as budget austerity held sway from Washington to Sacramento.

“The recovery continues, just keeps on plodding along,” said Justin Wolfers, economics professor at the University of Michigan. “Not the speed-up you may have hoped for, nor the slowdown you feared.”

“It’s becoming clearer every month that a moderate rate of jobs growth is more than sufficient to push the unemployment rate down,” he said.

Reflecting the relatively static performance of the job market in May, the average work week was unchanged at 34.5 hours.

Average wages ticked up modestly, however, bringing the yearly wage gain back over 2 percent to 2.1 percent during the month.

“There’s just no evidence that we’re anywhere near seeing wage inflation yet,” Mr. Wolfers said.

• Patrice Hill can be reached at phill@washingtontimes.com.

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