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Sputtering economy puts damper on U.S. job market

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy is growing too slowly to pull the job market out of a slump, according to the latest data that suggest June will be another weak month for hiring.

Applications for unemployment benefits stayed above a level last week that is generally considered too high to lower the unemployment rate. And the annual growth rate for the January-March quarter was unchanged at a tepid 1.9 percent.

The two government reports released Thursday added to the picture of an economy that is faltering for the third straight year after a promising start. Job growth has tumbled, consumers are less confident and Europe's financial crisis has dampened demand for U.S. exports.

Most economists don't see growth accelerating much from the first-quarter pace, although some are hopeful that lower gas prices could help lift consumer spending over the summer.

Growth of about 1.9 percent typically generates roughly 90,000 jobs a month. That's considered too weak to lower the unemployment rate, which was 8.2 percent last month.

Weekly applications fell only slightly last week to a seasonally adjusted 386,000, the Labor Department said. Applications have climbed nearly 5 percent in the past two months.

When applications are above 375,000, it generally means that hiring isn't strong enough to rapidly lower the unemployment rate.

Economists are predicting that 100,000 jobs were added in June and the unemployment rate did not change, according to a survey by FactSet. The government will issue the June employment report on July 6.

"Jobless claims are still too high and show that employment growth is slowing and no progress is being made," said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Employers added an average of only 73,000 jobs a month in April and May after averaging 226,000 a month in the first three months of the year.

The report on the first quarter's economic growth showed that U.S. corporate profits fell, the first quarterly decline since the final three months of 2008.

U.S. corporations earned less profit overseas, the report said. That's likely a result of Europe's economic woes and slowing growth in countries like China and India. Lower overseas profits could discourage U.S. employers from adding some jobs in the second half of the year.

"With global weakness continuing … corporate profits are likely to remain under pressure, a development that is unlikely to help the employment outlook," said Jeremy Lawson, an economist at BNP Paribas.

Americans have received little in the way of pay raises this year, with wage growth trailing inflation. That has started to slow their growth in spending. Retails sales have barely grown in the past two months.

Less growth in consumer spending has also hurt U.S. manufacturing activity, a leading economic driver since the recession ended. Factories produced less in May than April, the Federal Reserve said this month. Automakers cut back on output for the first time in six months.

Sputtering economy puts damper on U.S. job market 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 9:44pm]
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