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U.S. jobless rates drops to 10-year low

WASHINGTON — A burst of hiring in April provided a reassuring sign for the U.S. economy, reducing unemployment and bringing a broader gauge of the job market’s health to its lowest level since the recession began nearly a decade ago.

Employers added 211,000 jobs, more than double the weak showing in March, the Labor Department said Friday . The unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent, a 10-year low, from 4.5 percent in March.

Taken as a whole, the April jobs report suggested that American businesses are confident enough in their outlook for customer demand to keep adding jobs briskly despite a slump in the January-March quarter when the economy barely grew.

Room for improvement

Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley still have room for improvement when it comes to unemployment.

The state and the Las Vegas metro area both reported unemployment rates of 4.8 percent for March, according to state numbers. That state unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted.

Looking at the U-6 unemployment rate — which includes the percentage of unemployed, underemployed and discouraged workers — Nevada is above the national average reported for the second quarter of 2016 through the first quarter of 2017, according to federal numbers.

Las Vegas has seen impressive growth in construction employment thanks to more commercial and residential building, Applied Analysis principal Brian Gordon said.

“Builders are reportedly running into challenges meeting current demands, which needs to be monitored going forward,” Gordon said.

What’s missing in the discussion over the various unemployment rate measures is how many working adults are still without employment, UNLV professor and economics department chairman Jeff Waddoups said.

The ratio of employed adults ages 25 to 54 who can work compared to the total working age population reveals slack in the labor force, Waddoups said.

April saw 78.6 percent of adults in that age range employed compared to 80 percent of adults employed 10 years earlier. The ratio bottomed at 74.8 percent in December 2009 and November 2010 nationwide, according to federal data.

“It is still below where it was just before the Great Recession,” Waddoups said. “A significant, yet shrinking, group of prime age workers are still on the sidelines compared to where it was.”

Increasing confidence

The national jobs report “does increase our confidence that the soft patch in the first quarter is over,” Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays Capital, said in an email to clients.

In an encouraging sign, the number of part-time workers who’d prefer full-time jobs has reached a nine-year low. That trend suggests that many employers are meeting rising customer demand by shifting part-timers to full-time work.

The shift to more full-time work has also helped reduce a measure of underemployment that includes people who aren’t counted as unemployed: They are the part-time workers who want full-time jobs as well as people who have given up their job hunts.

This broader figure reached 8.6 percent in April, the lowest point since November 2007, just before the recession officially began. In 2009, it had topped 17 percent.

Beyond the strong hiring, the economy is showing other signs of health: Sales of existing homes have reached the highest point in a decade. And a survey of services firms this week — including restaurants, banks and retailers — showed that they are expanding steadily.

Average paychecks did grow more slowly in April, increasing 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, below March’s year-over-year gain. Companies may not yet feel much pressure to raise pay to find or keep the workers they need. Typically, employers feel compelled to pay more as the number of unemployed dwindles. In a strong economy, hourly pay gains tend to average around 3.5 percent.

One reason for the tepid wage gain is that hiring was strongest last month in lower-paying industries. One such category that includes hotels, restaurants, casinos and amusement parks added 55,000 jobs, the most of any major sector.

— Review-Journal writer Wade Tyler Millward contributed to this report.

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