Hot May Jobs Report: Employment +223K, Private Wages Rose $0.08 Per Hour

Mike Mish Shedlock

Jobs exceeded expectations and the unemployment rate edged lower to 3.8% as the participation rate fell.

Initial Reaction

Today’s establishment survey shows jobs rose by 223,000.

The Econoday consensus estimate was +190,000 jobs in a range of 150,000 to 220,000.

Nonfarm wage growth was +0.3%.

The unemployment rate dropped as the labor force was barely positive and the participation rate edged lower.

This was a strong jobs report.

Job Revisions

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for March was revised up from +135,000 to +155,000, and the change for April was revised down from +164,000 to +159,000. With these revisions, employment gains in March and April combined were 15,000 more than previously reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.) After revisions, job gains have averaged 179,000 over the last 3 months.

Let’s dive into the details in the BLS Employment Situation Summary, unofficially called the Jobs Report.

BLS Jobs Statistics at a Glance

  • Nonfarm Payroll: +223,000 – Establishment Survey
  • Employment: +293,000 – Household Survey
  • Unemployment: -281,000 – Household Survey
  • Involuntary Part-Time Work: -37,000 – Household Survey
  • Voluntary Part-Time Work: -106,000 – Household Survey
  • Baseline Unemployment Rate: -0.1 to 3.8% – Household Survey
  • U-6 unemployment: -0.2 to 7.8% – Household Survey
  • Civilian Non-institutional Population: +163,000
  • Civilian Labor Force: -236,000 – Household Survey
  • Not in Labor Force: +410,000 – Household Survey
  • Participation Rate: -0.1 to 62.8– Household Survey

Employment Report Statement

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 164,000 in April, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, manufacturing, health care, and mining.

Unemployment Rate – Seasonally Adjusted

The above Unemployment Rate Chart is from the BLS. Click on the link for an interactive chart.

Nonfarm Employment Change from Previous Month by Job Type

Nonfarm Employment Change from Previous Month

Hours and Wages

Average weekly hours of all private employees were steady at 34.5 hours. Average weekly hours of all private service-providing employees were steady at 33.3 hours. Average weekly hours of manufacturers declined 0.2 hour to 40.8 hours.

Average Hourly Earnings of All Nonfarm Workers rose .08 to $26.92. That a 0.30% gain. Average hourly earnings of private service-providing employees rose $0.09 to $26.64. Average hourly earnings of manufacturers was flat at $26.90.

Average hourly earnings of Production and Supervisory Workers rose $0.07 to $22.59. That's a 0.31% gain. Average hourly earnings of private service-providing employees rose $0.08 to $22.32. Average hourly earnings of manufacturers fell $0.02 to $21.41.

Year-Over-Year Wage Growth

  • All Nonfarm: 2.7%
  • All production and supervisory: +2.8%

Wage inflation remains benign.

For a discussion of income distribution, please see What’s “Really” Behind Gross Inequalities In Income Distribution?

Birth Death Model

Starting January 2014, I dropped the Birth/Death Model charts from this report. For those who follow the numbers, I retain this caution: Do not subtract the reported Birth-Death number from the reported headline number. That approach is statistically invalid. Should anything interesting arise in the Birth/Death numbers, I will comment further.

Table 15 BLS Alternate Measures of Unemployment

Table A-15 is where one can find a better approximation of what the unemployment rate really is.

Notice I said “better” approximation not to be confused with “good” approximation.

The official unemployment rate is 3.8%. However, if you start counting all the people who want a job but gave up, all the people with part-time jobs that want a full-time job, all the people who dropped off the unemployment rolls because their unemployment benefits ran out, etc., you get a closer picture of what the unemployment rate is. That number is in the last row labeled U-6.

U-6 is much higher at 7.6%. Both numbers would be way higher still, were it not for millions dropping out of the labor force over the past few years.

Some of those dropping out of the labor force retired because they wanted to retire. The rest is disability fraud, forced retirement, discouraged workers, and kids moving back home because they cannot find a job.

Strength is Relative

It’s important to put the jobs numbers into proper perspective.

  1. In the household survey, if you work as little as 1 hour a week, even selling trinkets on eBay, you are considered employed.
  2. In the household survey, if you work three part-time jobs, 12 hours each, the BLS considers you a full-time employee.
  3. In the payroll survey, three part-time jobs count as three jobs. The BLS attempts to factor this in, but they do not weed out duplicate Social Security numbers. The potential for double-counting jobs in the payroll survey is large.

Household Survey vs. Payroll Survey

The payroll survey (sometimes called the establishment survey) is the headline jobs number, generally released the first Friday of every month. It is based on employer reporting.

The household survey is a phone survey conducted by the BLS. It measures unemployment and many other factors.

If you work one hour, you are employed. If you don’t have a job and fail to look for one, you are not considered unemployed, rather, you drop out of the labor force.

Looking for jobs on Monster does not count as “looking for a job”. You need an actual interview or send out a resume.

These distortions artificially lower the unemployment rate, artificially boost full-time employment, and artificially increase the payroll jobs report every month.

Final Thoughts

Once again, February was wildly high all the way back to July of 2016.

As I said last month, it's difficult to take a strong position other than wait and see. This month provides an indication that February was an outlier of sorts.

Wage growth despite the alleged robust jobs picture has been anemic.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Comments (8)
No. 1-8

Hussmanians quite today.


I'm wondering if now Traders will go long and short the stock market now based on whether Trump tweets or fails to tweet about next months' job stats


Pelosi spinning this as bad...unreal


BLS stats are ludicrous of course. Shadowstats reporting April 2018 unemployment as 21.5%. During his 2016 campaign Trump claimed 42%. Who knows what actual unemployment is, but it's definitely above 3.8%. If you remove enough people from the official workforce, as the BLS is wont to do, you can conjure any figure you want. Bear in mind that less than half the population (161M out of 325M) are considered to be in the workforce.

Wages would be rising MUCH faster with sub 4% unemployment as workers would enjoy some serious leverage. Instead wages are stagnant as they have been for decades.


Take any of the U-1 thru U-6 measures, all are improving. And prob just as important, employment of 24-54 year-old, almost back to pre-recession number. Something that didn't happen between 2001 and 2007 recession. Just say'n


Unemployment rate separated from income levels is not very enlightening about the strength of the economy. A low rate of unemployment does not equal high productivity. As Mish noted, real income levels are key too. Personal savings rates are near all time lows, which probably has multiple causes, but I'm guessing one is that many people don't have much extra money to save.

The best thing about the unemployment rate is how it correlates to the so-called "business cycle." Rates go low and stall before every recession.


Yep, and the same Trump who said he was going to MAGA. Point is that there's no way only 49% of the country is in the labor force. If you're going to call unemployment 3.8%, you may as well mark it zero and declare full employment, Soviet style.

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