Employers in U.S. Added More Jobs Even as Fuel Costs Climbed

American employers added more jobs than forecast in April and previous monthly gains this year were revised up, easing concern the economy is cooling.

Payrolls expanded by 244,000 last month, the biggest gain since May 2010, after a revised 221,000 increase the prior month, the Labor Department said yesterday in Washington. The jobless rate climbed to 9 percent, the first increase since November, a separate survey of households showed. Employment was forecast to grow by 185,000 last month, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

Stocks and the dollar rallied as the report indicated consumers in the world’s largest economy are weathering the highest gasoline prices in almost three years. The figures bolster Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s forecast for a labor market that is “improving gradually.”

“The recovery looks to be certainly more self-sustaining,” said Omair Sharif, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, who forecast a 240,000 gain in payrolls. “Businesses have more confidence in the sustainability of the recovery.”

March payrolls were revised up from a previously reported gain of 216,000, and February employment increased 235,000, up from a prior estimate of 194,000.

April payroll projections in the Bloomberg survey of 86 economists ranged from gains of 118,000 to 325,000, while the jobless rate was forecast to hold at 8.8 percent.

Stocks, Dollar

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index advanced 0.4 percent to 1,340.2 at the 4 p.m. close in New York. IntercontinentalExchange Inc.’s Dollar Index, used to track the dollar against the currencies of trading partners including the euro and yen, rose 0.8 percent to 74.785.

The economy has generated 760,000 private jobs in the past three months, the employment report showed. Overall, companies added 2.1 million jobs since February 2010, after the loss of 8.8 million as a result of the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009.

Private hiring, which excludes government agencies, rose by 268,000 in April, more than the 200,000 median forecast in the Bloomberg survey and the most since February 2006.

Among companies adding workers is Norfolk Southern Corp. The fourth-biggest U.S. railroad is expanding payrolls as it benefits from higher shipping volumes. First-quarter profit excluding some items was $1 a share, topping the 90-cent average estimate from 27 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

More Hiring

“We still have a need for additional employees for the business that we’ve got out there,” Mark Manion, chief operating officer of Norfolk Southern, said in an April 27 teleconference. “There is a need to hire for our current business as well as hiring for the growth that’s anticipated in the first -- this year and on into 2012.”

A separate survey of households by the Labor Department showed that the size of the labor force was little changed in April and employment shrank by 190,000. That pushed the share of the population in the labor force down to 58.4 percent from 58.5 percent a month earlier.

“The labor market has shown further improvement,” William C. Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech yesterday. “Yet the recovery remains moderate and we still have a considerable way to go to meet the Fed’s dual mandate of full employment and price stability.”

The payroll figures are a boost for President Barack Obama, whose administration is locked in negotiations with Republican leaders in Congress to reduce record budget deficits. The president’s approval ratings got a lift in public opinion polls after the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Economic Concerns

Americans remained concerned about the economy, which is likely to be the top issue in the 2012 presidential election. In a New York Times/CBS poll conducted May 2-3, 57 percent of those surveyed said they approved of the job Obama is doing, up from 46 percent who approved last month. Thirty-four percent approved of how Obama is handling the economy and 55 percent disapproved.

The jobs report “is obviously good news,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday aboard Air Force One as Obama traveled to an event in Indianapolis. “We obviously have a lot more work to do,” Carney said.

Government payrolls decreased by 24,000 in April, the sixth straight decline. Local-government employment dropped by 14,000.

Factory payrolls increased by 29,000 last month, exceeding the survey forecast of a 20,000 gain, after a 22,000 rise in March.

Plane Demand

“We are going to be hiring and growing employment in Puget Sound and in South Carolina over the foreseeable future,” Jim McNerney, chief executive officer of Chicago-based plane maker Boeing Co., said on an April 27 teleconference. “Production rates are fueling really an unprecedented growth for commercial airplanes.”

Employment at service-providers rose 200,000 in April after a 184,000 gain the prior month. The health-care industry added 37,300 workers in April. Construction payrolls increased on a pickup in heavy and civil engineering employment.

Retail trade employment increased by 57,100 last month, which may have reflected the effects of an Easter holiday that occurred later this year than last, making seasonal adjustment difficult for the Labor Department.

While payrolls have grown each month since October, Bernanke on April 27 said central bankers would like to see more strength in the U.S. job market and that the recovery has been “quite slow.”

Bernanke’s View

“The labor market is improving gradually,” Bernanke said to reporters during the first-ever press conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting. “We would like to make sure that that is sustainable.”

Fed policy makers last month decided to complete their program to buy $600 billion in Treasuries through June to boost the economy. At the same time, Bernanke said the Fed would maintain record monetary stimulus and keep its balance sheet steady by reinvesting proceeds of maturing securities.

Economic growth slowed to a 1.8 percent annual rate in the first quarter after expanding at a 3.1 percent pace in the last three months of 2010, according to Commerce Department figures.

Rising fuel and grocery bills are damping consumer confidence and squeezing the budgets of households, whose spending makes up 70 percent of the world’s largest economy. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index decreased to minus 46.2 in the week ended May 1, the lowest level since the end of March, from minus 45.1 the prior period.

Fuel Costs

Regular gasoline was $3.98 a gallon on May 5, up from $3.07 at the beginning of the year, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring organization. Food costs rose 0.8 percent in March, the most since July 2008, consumer-price index data from the Labor Department showed last month.

Higher incomes are helping make up for the price increases. Average hourly earnings climbed by 3 cents to $22.95 in April, yesterday’s report showed, while the average work week for all employees held at 34.3 hours.

The data also showed a decrease in long-term unemployed Americans. The number of people jobless for 27 weeks or more fell to 43.4 percent of all job-seekers from 45.5 percent a month earlier.

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