Employers boosted payrolls in April by the most in two years and the jobless rate plunged to 6.3 percent as companies grew confident the U.S. economy is emerging from a first-quarter slowdown.
The 288,000 gain in employment was the biggest since January 2012 and followed a revised 203,000 increase the prior month that was stronger than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 218,000 advance. Unemployment dropped from 6.7 percent to the lowest level since September 2008 as fewer people entered the labor force. Wages and hours worked were stagnant.
Households spent more freely as the first quarter drew to a close and manufacturing accelerated, helping explain why companies such as Ford Motor Co. are taking on more workers. The figures corroborate the Federal Reserve’s view that the expansion is perking up after stagnating last quarter.
“The job market is starting to click on all cylinders -- the engine is not running very fast, but all cylinders are moving,” Robert Stein, deputy chief economist at First Trust Portfolios LP in Wheaton, Illinois, said before the report. His firm is the second-best forecaster of payroll growth for the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. For the Fed, it “fits right within their wheelhouse, and wouldn’t alter in any way what they’re likely to do.”
Stock-index futures held gains and Treasury yields climbed after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in June rising 0.1 percent to 1,879 at 8:36 a.m. in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note increased to 2.67 percent from 2.61 percent late yesterday.
Forecasts for April payrolls ranged from increases of 155,000 to 292,000, according to the Bloomberg survey of 94 economists. Last year, the U.S. added more than 194,000 jobs each month, compared with about 186,000 in 2012. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg on April 4-9 project payroll gains to match 2013.
Manufacturers in April added the most jobs in five months and retailers took on the most workers this year.
To calculate the data, the Labor Department surveys businesses and households for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month.
The agency’s survey of households showed the labor force shrank by more the 800,000 in April. The so-called participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people in the labor force, decreased to 62.8 percent, matching the lowest level since 1978, from 63.2 percent a month earlier.
Private payrolls, which don’t include government agencies, increased 273,000 in April after a 202,000 gain. Last month, hiring by companies surpassed the pre-recession peak for the first time.
Today’s employment report also showed average hourly earnings held at to $24.31 in April. They were up 1.9 percent over the past 12 months.
The average work week for all employees held at 34.5 hours.
Americans are the most upbeat about finding a “quality job” than at any time since January 2008, according to Gallup data released April 25. A separate survey by the Conference Board shows the proportion of consumers who said jobs would become more plentiful in the next six months climbed in April to the highest level since January.
Such optimism extends to Ford. Boosted by record profits in North America, the second-largest automaker said it will probably hire more than the 12,000 new workers it promised in its 2011 contract with the United Auto Workers.
“The business has grown faster than we predicted it would in 2011,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in an interview on April 30. The company said it hired 2,000 new workers at its factory in Claycomo, Missouri, and that it’s completed about 75 percent of its commitment to hire 12,000 workers by 2015.
Choice Hotels International, Inc. said employment growth is one reason to be upbeat about the travel industry.
“As we’ve seen employment improve -- and I’m the first one to say it hasn’t moved that much yet, but it’s starting to feel like it is -- that’s going to give us an exaggerated impact based on those folks coming back with jobs and then beginning to travel,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Joyce said on an April 28 earnings call. “We’re optimistic of that.”
Fed policy makers at this week’s meeting said the economy is showing signs of picking up and the job market is improving. The Fed’s Open Market Committee pared its monthly asset-buying to $45 billion, its fourth straight $10 billion cut, and said further reductions in “measured steps” are likely.
Gross domestic product rose at a 0.1 percent annualized rate from January through March, compared with a 2.6 percent gain in the prior quarter, the Commerce Department said earlier this week.
“Growth in economic activity has picked up recently, after having slowed sharply,” the Fed said this week in a statement following their meeting in Washington. “Household spending appears to be rising more quickly.”
Household purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy, climbed 0.9 percent in March, the most since August 2009, the Commerce Department said yesterday. Incomes increased by the most in seven months.
Also yesterday, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed factories added employers in April at the fastest pace in four months. Manufacturing expanded the most this year.