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National unemployment rate falls to 9.7 percent; job market remains shaky

The raw number blaring in headlines looks encouraging: the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in May, down from 9.9 percent.

Drill down, though, and other, more troubling numbers threaten to prolong any jobs recovery.

May's improved employment picture was fueled almost entirely by a surge in temporary U.S. Census jobs that at best will last a few months. Private employers pared back for the slowest pace of hiring since the beginning of the year, while the percentage of jobless in a long-term search hit a fresh record. Also driving the unemployment rate lower: a sharp rise in the number of job seekers who stopped looking for work.

Friday's update from the U.S. Labor Department was not devoid of positive data. For one, the number of people working part time for economic reasons fell by 350,000. Moreover, this was the fifth month in a row of job gains, albeit far short of expectations.

Overall, however, the hiring front remains sluggish, even as we shift into the summer months, typically a softer hiring period for employers amid rolling vacations.

Kevin Bryce, a marketing and advertising consultant in Palm Harbor who has been looking for job opportunities, compares the summer slowdown to end-of-the-year holidays.

"Here is a very positive time of year for people. Celebrations, family get-togethers," Bryce said. "There's a lot of hope … mixed with the fact that companies don't really want to hire in these months."

Florida's unemployment stood at 12 percent in April. That state releases its May unemployment report in two weeks.

By the numbers

National unemployment figures

431,000

Net new jobs

created in May.

411,000

Temporary new jobs created by the U.S. Census in May, its peak hiring month.

41,000

Private jobs

created in May, down from 218,000 in April.

322,000

Job seekers who left the workforce in May for a variety of reasons.

350,000

Drop in those working part time for economic reasons.

15 million

Total number

of jobless.

46

Percentage

of unemployed who have looked for work for at least six months, a new record.

National unemployment rate falls to 9.7 percent; job market remains shaky 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 6:25pm]
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