By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hiring in the United States rebounded in April as employers added a brisk 211,000 jobs, a sign that the economy’s slump in the first three months of the year could prove temporary.
The unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent — its lowest point in a decade — from 4.5 percent in March.
The figures suggest that businesses expect consumer demand to rebound after a lackluster first quarter, when Americans increased spending at the slowest pace in seven years, and will need more employees.
Still, average paychecks grew more slowly in April, increasing 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, below March’s year-over-year gain. Typically, employers are forced to pay more as they compete for a smaller pool of unemployed workers. Hourly pay gains are usually closer to 3.5 percent in a strong economy.
Some evidence suggests that economic growth is rebounding in the current April-June quarter, with some economists forecasting that it could top a 3 percent annual rate, compared with the first quarter’s 0.7 rate. Last quarter, consumers spent less in part because of low utility bills during an unseasonably warm winter. That’s likely to prove a temporary restraint.
And the housing market is reaching new heights as home sales and construction march upward even though a limited number of properties are for sale. Sales of existing homes jumped in March to their highest level in more than a decade.
Still, average hourly pay has remained well below the roughly 3.5 percent annual pay gains typical of a healthy economy. Inflation has also picked up, eroding even that limited income growth. With the unemployment rate low, companies may eventually have to pay more to attract and keep employees.
One trend that could hold back pay gains would be a flood of job-seekers coming off the sidelines and looking for work. That would give businesses more potential employees to hire, thereby reducing the need to pay more.
Retail store chains, like Sears and Macy’s, have been slashing jobs in the face of ferocious competition from Amazon.com and other e-commerce companies. That’s transformed retail to a job-losing industry. Many traditional retailers are rapidly building up their own online storefronts and expanding their warehousing and logistics divisions. But those functions are less labor-intensive and are unlikely to fully offset the job losses at physical stores.
Factories have mostly recovered over the past six months from nearly two years of struggle. Plummeting oil prices had caused drilling firms to slash orders for steel pipe, machinery and other equipment. And weak growth overseas, plus a strong dollar, depressed exports. But oil and gas prices stabilized last fall. Growth is picking up in Europe and Japan and has stabilized in China. All that has helped lift factory output.
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