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U.S. Job Growth Sputters: Only 54,000 Jobs in May

(May jobs report updated with ISM services data and analyst commentary)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. economy added far fewer jobs in May, suggesting that the recovery in the employment market might be stalling.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls increased by 54,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis in May, after rising by an average of 220,000 in the prior three months. Economists were expecting the payrolls to rise by 169,000, according to Briefing.com. That is the lowest payroll growth since September 2010.

The private sector, which has been the main contributor of jobs amid layoffs at the state and local government levels, added 83,000 jobs, a marked slowdown from the 244,000 jobs averaged in the last three months. Economists predicted companies would add 180,000 jobs in May, their expectations diminished by the ADP report Wednesday which said companies added only 38,000 jobs.

The consensus estimates don't always reflect actual market expectations because analysts don't always revise their estimates based on the ADP report. The "whisper" number for the markets may have been closer to about 100,000. So even by those metrics, the jobs report is severely disappointing.

Reacting to the dismal report, Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at J.H. Cohn, said, "This report stands out as a recommendation to all economists to go through a course in humility. I expected, even after the ADP report, a much better report than this. But as Keynes said -'when the facts change, I change my mind.'"

According to the Labor Department's survey, the auto, retail, nondurable goods and health care sectors shed jobs in May. The government laid off another 29,000 workers in May, after shedding 19,000 in April and 25,000 in March.

But more striking than layoffs was the slowdown in hiring. After adding 38,000 jobs in April, the goods-producing sector created only 3,000 jobs in May. Manufacturing shed 5,000 jobs in May, after hiring 24,000 people in the previous month.

The private services-providing sector, the biggest contributor to employment, added only 80,000 jobs, after creating 213,000 in April. In April, the ISM Services Index showed a dramatic slowdown to 52.8% from 57.3% in March. The Institute for Supply Management said at 10:00 a.m Friday that the Nonmanufacturing Index rose to 54.6% from 52.8% in April, better than the 53.3% economists were expecting.

Temporary help, which has contributed one in six 6 jobs during the recovery, also saw a drop of 1,200 jobs.

"The flattening in temporary help, given the marginal headline employment gain signals that employers have become even more reluctant to increase payrolls in the face of sputtering expansion," O'Keefe noted.

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