Employers added 428,000 jobs in April, extending a string of booming payroll gains despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, ongoing worker shortages and war in Ukraine.
The jobless rate remained unchanged at 3.6%, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists polled by Bloomberg had estimated that 390,000 jobs had been created last month.
The country has recovered 20.8 million, or 95%, of the 22 million jobs lost at the start of the health crisis, leaving it 1.2 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level. The deficit could be made up by the summer.
Job growth averaged more than half a million a month in the first quarter as the pandemic eased following the spike in cases triggered by the omicron variant. And the economy has now added more than 400,000 jobs a month for 12 months, the longest such streak on record.
In April, leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants and bars, the sector hardest hit by the pandemic, led the overall job gains with 78,000; manufacturing added 55,000; transportation and storage, 52,0000; professional and business services, 41,000; financial activities, 35,000; health care, 34,000; and retail, 29,000.
Daily cases of COVID-19 are averaging about 60,000 from 25,000 in early April, with contagious omicron subvariants continuing to spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, this is well below the daily average of 800,000 recorded in January and omicron remains far less severe than previous virus strains.
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As a result, the spike has less impact on economic activity, according to Spencer Hill, an economist at Goldman Sachs. According to Goldman and OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service, restaurant seats have remained stable at near pre-crisis levels in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Americans who were caring for children or staying home for fear of COVID have returned to a booming job market with soaring wages. However, this trend came to a halt in April. The number of people working or looking for work fell by 363,000 last month, pushing the participation rate from 62.4% to 62%
The decline came despite a record 11.5 million job openings in March, underscoring that businesses are still struggling to find workers. That tends to slow job growth during the typically busy spring hiring season, Hill says.
Trade uncertainty created by Russia’s war in Ukraine could also dampen hiring, according to economist Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Most metropolitan areas saw declines in hours worked and employees working at small businesses last month, according to Homebase, a payroll software provider.
April’s strong report likely bolsters the Federal Reserve’s tentative plans to raise interest rates by half a point at its June and July meetings despite the recent selloff in stock markets, the Bank says. economist Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics. A similar hike this week marked the Fed’s biggest such move in 22 years.