Job growth picked up last month after slowing in April, with 559,000 positions added to payrolls according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Total employment is now at 144.9 million jobs — down 5% compared to February 2020.
The number of unemployed Americans fell by 496,000 people to 9.3 million, the largest decline since January. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.8%.
Average hourly earnings increased 15 cents to $30.33 in May, after a 21 cent increase in April. That is the highest inflation-adjusted hourly wage in a given month since the BLS began collecting this data in 2006. The agency writes that this suggests “that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages.”
The BLS cautions that factors like fluctuating employment levels in sectors with higher or lower pay can also impact average earnings. Wages last spiked in April 2020, when the nation lost 20.7 million jobs. Accommodation and food sector workers, who averaged the lowest wages in 2020, were also the second most likely to lose their job from 2019 to 2020.
The number of Americans unemployed for 27 weeks or more dropped from 4.2 million to 3.8 million between April and May, accounting for the largest share of people no longer unemployed last month.
The only category of unemployed Americans that grew in May were reentrants, increasing from 2.07 million people to 2.15 million. These are people who had stopped seeking work altogether — and so were no longer counted as unemployed — but have since returned to the job market.
As vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 restrictions ease, the leisure and hospitality industry continue to lead in job creation. The sector grew by 292,000 positions in May, almost two-thirds of which were in restaurants and bars. But leisure and hospitality businesses were hit the hardest at the start of the pandemic, and employment remains down by 15% compared to February 2020.
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