By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER and PAUL WISEMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. job growth slumped in April for a second straight month. It suggested an economy that is growing steadily but still sluggishly, which could further tighten a close presidential race.
A drop in the unemployment rate wasn't necessarily a healthy sign for the job market. The rate fell from 8.2 percent in March to 8.1 percent in April. But that was mainly because more people gave up looking for work.
People who aren't looking for jobs aren't counted as unemployed.
The 115,000 jobs added in April were fewer than the 154,000 jobs added in March, a number the government revised up from its earlier estimate of 120,000. It also marked a sharp decline from December through February, when the economy averaged 252,000 jobs per month.
The percentage of adults working or looking for work has fallen to its lowest level in more than 30 years. Many have become discouraged about their prospects.
Job creation is the fuel for the nation's economic growth. When more people have jobs, more consumers have money to spend — and consumer spending drives about 70 of the economy.
Here's what The Associated Press' reporters are finding:
TEPID ECONOMY, TEPID HIRING
Over time, strong economic growth is vital for strong job growth.
But early this year, hiring accelerated much faster than economic growth did. Job gains averaged a strong 229,000 in the first three months. By contrast, the economy grew at a sluggish annual rate of 2.2 percent.
Economists began to wonder: Would growth catch up with hiring? Or would hiring slow to match economic growth as measured by gross domestic product, or GDP?
Some analysts say April's disappointing job growth suggests an answer, and it's not a cheerful one:
"It now appears that jobs have decelerated into line with GDP, rather than GDP accelerating to catch up with jobs," said Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight.
THE LONG SLOG BACK
Job creation has been frustratingly slow since the Great Recession ended. Only 43 percent of the jobs lost have been regained 34 months later.
The rebound was only slightly stronger after the previous recession, which ended in November 2001. By September 2004, 54 percent of the jobs lost had been regained. It took five more months before all the jobs were back.
The problem this time isn't that companies haven't been hiring: They've added more than 1 million jobs in the past six months. It's that the Great Recession killed so many jobs in the first place — 8.3 million.
By contrast, the 2001 recession eliminated 1.6 million jobs.
A PENNY MORE FOR YOUR WORK
For people with jobs who assume they're not affected by Friday's report, take notice: The report notes that the average worker's hourly pay eked out a gain of just one penny in April.
Over the past year, average hourly pay has ticked up 1.8 percent to $23.28. Inflation has been roughly 2.7 percent. Which means the average consumer isn't keeping up with price increases.
The slow hiring is particularly distressing for people like David Boyce of Tacoma, Wash., who's been unemployed for two years. Boyce, 30, had been a salesman for Yellow Book USA before being laid off.
Boyce received unemployment benefits for about 15 months. They ran out in September.
His wife works as a nanny for a real estate executive. But her hours were slashed after the housing bust.
"We lived off savings for a while, and now we're living off ramen noodles basically," Boyce said.
After interviewing twice at one company for an entry-level sales job, Boyce was told it would make a hiring decision after five more interviews.
"I have never gone through that kind of rigmarole before just to get back to an entry-level sales job," he said.
NOWHERE TO HIDE
Hiring was weak, if it occurred at all, in eight of 10 industry categories the government tracks.
Manufacturing, which has been a source of strength, added 16,000 jobs. Education and health services, which tend to be less affected by economic cycles, added 19,000.