USA hiring modest, jobless rate dips to 3.9%

This year the economy has added an average of 202,000 jobs each month

US job growth increased less than expected in April and the unemployment rate dropped to near a 17-1/2-year low of 3.9 percent as some out-of-work Americans left the labour force. "It would be more encouraging if the unemployment rate fell because more people got jobs", the report said.

Employers added 164,000 jobs, slightly below what economists were expecting but better than a comparatively sluggish March.

In April, the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, following 6 months at 4.1percent. The dip can be misleading, however.

The drop in the unemployment rate came amid another decline in the labour force participation rate to 62.8%, the lowest since January.

The 4 percent mark is psychologically important. Alternative measures of wage growth have shown it growing at a slow and steady pace, and inflation has already in fact risen back to the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target.

That's the silver lining for what is, if not a dark cloud, at least a surprisingly off-color one: Even though unemployment is a mere 3.9 percent, wages don't seem to be rising much faster than they have for the last couple years, and at nowhere near the rate they were before the crash.

There were some bright spots.

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But after weak hiring in March, April also underperformed, as economists had forecast a gain of 190,000 new jobs. Professional and business services added 54,000 jobs, health care added 24,000, and manufacturing posted an increase of 24,000 jobs.

Low unemployment also means higher wages as the employers are under less economic pressure and it means they can hike wages sharply to retain employees. That is good news for oil-patch states that saw some uptick in foreclosures after the industry was hammered by lower oil prices.

Mickey Levy of Berenberg Capital Markets called the jobs report a "mixed bag", but said the unbroken string of hiring was "impressive". That was the fewest amount of jobs created in six months and followed an outsized gain of 324,000 in February. Revisions to prior reports added a total of 30,000 jobs to payrolls in the previous two months, according to the figures, resulting in a three-month average of 208,000.

But while the number of jobs available increases, the actual number of new humans needed to fill these roles continues to dwindle. According to the report, "policymakers expected 'economic activity will expand at a moderate pace in the medium term and labor market conditions will remain strong'".

Consider this: Between 1998 and 2008, the unemployment rate explained about 58 percent of the raises that these workers were getting.

National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said the cumulative gains in jobs should have already translated into a surge in homebuying to begin the spring, but that hasn't happened. It's a "perfect storm of labor market and cultural transformation", Henderson said.

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