By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — A wave of census hiring lifted payrolls by 431,000 in May, but job creation by private companies grew at the slowest pace since the start of the year. The unemployment rate dipped to 9.7% as people gave up searching for work.
The Labor Department's new employment snapshot released Friday suggested that outside of the burst of hiring of temporary census workers by the federal government many private employers are wary of bulking up their work forces.
That indicates the economic recovery may not bring relief fast enough for millions of Americans who are unemployed.
Virtually all the job creation in May came from the hiring of 411,000 census workers. Such hiring peaked in May and will begin tailing off in June.
By contrast, hiring by private employers, the backbone of the economy, slowed sharply. They added just 41,000 jobs, down from 218,000 in April and the fewest since January.
The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey than the payroll figures, fell to 9.7% from 9.9%. The dip partly reflected 322,000 people leaving the labor force for a variety of reasons.
All told, 15 million people were unemployed in May.
Counting people who have given up looking for work and part-timers who would rather be working full time, the "underemployment" rate fell to 16.6% in May from 17.1% in April. Even with the drop, the high underemployment figure shows how difficult it is for jobseekers to find work.
Employers across a range of industries last month added jobs at a slower pace — or cut them. Factories, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality companies, and education and health care firms all slowed hiring. Financial services, construction companies and retailers all pared jobs. Government, however, led the way in hiring, adding a whopping 390,000 positions last month.