When will the U.S. economy roar back to life? First quarter GDP dismally underperformed expectations, and it can’t be blamed on the weather. The only good number in April’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report is that the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs. But even that number is tempered by the paltry number of workers the country added in March. Unemployment “was essentially unchanged” as it was 5.4%, and the U-6 measure of labor underutilization edged down a tenth of a percentage point to 10.8%. And the labor force participation rate remains at historic lows. “Since April 2014, the participation rate has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 percent to 62.9 percent,” the report says.
Of the jobs that were added, most of the growth was in the economic sectors of professional and business services, health care and construction. The oil and gas industry lost 3,000 jobs in April, which shows it’s contracting and jettisoning workers after the glut of energy production in December. The factories are slowing down, as the average manufacturing workweek is shortening to 40.8 hours. This is all in contrast to the Obama administration’s mantra that the economy will kick itself out of first gear any day now. Before BLS released the numbers, The New York Times said the shadowy policymakers at the Fed will be watching this report to see if they should raise interest rates. While it would be nice to get a little something for keeping money in a bank, it seems like the Fed will follow the economy’s lead and stay frozen.