BLS: 151,620,000 Americans Employed in May, 444,000 More Than in April

Susan Jones | June 4, 2021 | 7:58am EDT
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A 'Help Wanted' sign is posted beside coronavirus safety guidelines in front of a restaurant in Los Angeles, California on May 28, 2021. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
A 'Help Wanted' sign is posted beside coronavirus safety guidelines in front of a restaurant in Los Angeles, California on May 28, 2021. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

( - Following a disappointing employment report in April, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday produced an improving picture as the nation continues to emerge from its COVID slump.

The economy added 559,000 jobs last month, below Bloomberg's median estimate of +661,000, but easily beating the lackluster 266,000 added in April (the April number fell far short of estimates as high as 1 million).

The unemployment rate, after rising a tenth of a point last month to 6.1 percent, dropped three-tenths of a point to 5.8 percent; and the number of employed Americans increased for the 13th consecutive month.

In May, 151,620,000 Americans were working, 7,115,000 fewer than the record 158,735,000 employed in December 2019 when Donald Trump was president. As COVID crashed the economy, the number of employed Americans fell to 133,370,000 in April 2020, a number not seen since 1999.

The 151,620,000 Americans counted as employed last month -- meaning they worked for pay or profit during the reference period, even if the job was part-time or temporary -- was 444,000 more than in April, and 1,589,000 more than when Joe Biden became president in January.

The number of unemployed Americans --those who don't have a job but are available for work and have looked for work in the past four weeks -- was 9,316,000 in May, a drop of 496,000 from the 9,812,000 unemployed in April.

In May, the civilian non-institutional population in the United States was 261,210,000. That included all people 16 and older who did not live in an institution, such as a prison, nursing home or long-term care facility.

Of that civilian non-institutional population, 160,935,000 were participating in the labor force, meaning they either had a job or were actively seeking one during the last month. This resulted in a labor force participation rate of 61.6 percent in May, down a tenth of a point from 61.7 percent in April, but 0.2 points higher than the 61.4 percent when Biden took office.

The number of Americans counted as not in the labor force -- meaning they didn't have a job and were not looking for one -- increased by 160,000 in May to 100,275,000. Of those 100,275,000 counted as not in the labor force, BLS said 2.5 million persons were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 2.8 million the month before.

In May, 7.9 million people reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic--that is, they did not work at all or worked fewer hours at some point in the last 4 weeks due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 9.4 million in the previous month.

Among those who reported in May that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business, 9.3 percent received at least some pay from their employer for the hours not worked, unchanged from the previous month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates declined in May for teenagers (9.6 percent), Whites (5.1 percent), and Hispanics (7.3 percent). The jobless rates for adult men (5.9 percent), adult women (5.4 percent), Blacks (9.1 percent), and Asians (5.5 percent) showed little change in May.

BLS said notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality (+292,000), in public and private education as in-person learning resumed in some places (+53,000/local, +50,000/state, +41,000/private); in health care and social assistance (+46,000); in information services (+29,000), manufacturing (+23,000).

A job gain in motor vehicles and parts (+25,000) followed a loss in April (-38,000).  Transportation and warehousing added 23,000 jobs in May. Construction employment edged down in May (-20,000), and employment in retail trade dropped by 6,000 in May.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 15 cents to $30.33 in May, following an increase of 21 cents in April.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for March was revised up by 15,000, from +770,000 to +785,000; and the change for April was revised up by 12,000, from +266,000 to +278,000. With these revisions, employment in March and April combined is 27,000 higher than previously reported.

The business and economic reporting of is funded in part with a gift made in memory of Dr. Keith C. Wold.

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