BLS Employment Situation Report: April 2024

Once again, the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly payroll report (BLS) takes centre stage as investors, business executives, politicians and economists look for clues on the direction of the all-important jobs market. Today’s data had a little something for each of these audiences.

The report may indicate the first sign of a cooling job market as the BLS reported a gain of 175,000 jobs in April, lower than the average monthly gain of 242,000 over the prior 12 months. Analysts’ estimates had forecasted gains of about 250,000 jobs. The figures give hope to investors for possible fourth-quarter Fed rate cuts, to business for easing of the skilled labour crunch, and to politicians for whatever spin they want to apply to the data.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9 percent.

“Once again today’s data demonstrated the resilience of the small and large businesses that employ over 150 million Americans. Analysts pour over this monthly data to understand trends that might point to the overall health of the economy or to future actions by the Federal Reserve or, in this election season, to develop themes that might be advantageous to their favoured candidate.

Leaders in our global MRINetwork of over 200 executive recruitment offices and over 2500 talent search professionals look at the data to better understand trends within the industry groups reported by the BLS. We look for employment data and try to understand business drivers in the dozens of BLS industry sectors — from accommodation and food services to finance and insurance to semiconductor manufacturing and even warehousing and storage industries — where our teams operate in,” noted Rick Hermanns, president and chief executive officer of HireQuest Inc., the parent company of MRINetwork.

“Shortly before I was preparing my comments on the BLS report this morning, I was reviewing the agenda for our firm’s annual American Hero Awards program. It is our nineteenth year of honouring U.S. servicemen and women who have fought for our freedom. Each year in mid-May, we gather aboard the USS Yorktown in Charleston, SC and present the American Hero Award to a veteran who exemplifies the values of the U.S. armed forces and to salute the Ultimate Hero Award honoree presented to the family of an individual who made the ultimate sacrifice in meritorious combat. It reminded me of the debt we owe to our veterans. Our U.S. offices strive to identify opportunities for those who have served in the armed services, and in fact some are veteran-owned and focused on the many industries that leverage candidate skills acquired in military service.

I’d urge all of our clients to ensure they have an understanding of the value that a seasoned military veteran can add to their talent mix. They bring not just technical skills but tangible attributes in leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and are top performers in stressful situations. It’s a win-win opportunity that every organization needs to consider.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Goldfarb summarized today’s report, “Stock futures climbed, suggesting investors were pleased with the data, which could increase optimism about the outlook for inflation. Before Friday, recent data had shown remarkable stability in the labour market. Despite the Fed’s efforts to fight inflation by lifting borrowing costs, businesses have continued to hire at a robust clip, the unemployment rate has ticked up only modestly, and a report on Tuesday suggested that a slowdown in wage growth has stalled. Economists have noted that conditions could shift quickly. Past surges in unemployment have often arrived with little warning. Demand for workers has already cooled, with declines in the number of job openings and in the share of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs.”

Last week, Citi economists Veronica Clark and Andrew Hollenhorst wrote in a preview note, “Another upside surprise to payrolls would further the recent narrative of few or no rate cuts from the Fed. But Fed officials have been downplaying any hawkish reaction to stronger employment, and a downside surprise to employment would lead to a sharp pricing-in of more Fed rate cuts.” It remains to be seen how the Fed interprets the April figures.

There were no outstanding industry sector performers as the data reported moderate growth in most areas.

Healthcare added 56,000 jobs in April, in line with the average monthly gain of 63,000 over the prior 12 months.

In April, transportation and warehousing added 22,000 jobs, with gains in couriers and messengers (+8,000) and warehousing and storage (+8,000). Over the prior 12 months, employment in transportation and warehousing had shown little net change.

Employment in retail trade continued to trend up in April (+20,000). Over the prior 12 months, the industry had added an average of 7,000 jobs per month.

Construction employment improved slightly in April (+9,000), following an increase of 40,000 in March. Over the prior 12 months, construction had added an average of 22,000 jobs per month.

Notably, growth in government employment cooled in April as 8,000 jobs were added versus an average job addition of 55,000 per month over the past 12 months.

Employment was little changed over the month in other major industries, including mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; manufacturing; wholesale trade; information; financial activities; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.

“If you will be in the low country of Charleston, SC area on May 14, please feel free to join us on the USS Yorktown as we honour two courageous Americans. Or you are invited to join the event via live streaming. Let us know and we will welcome you aboard,” noted Hermanns.

To view the entire Employment Situation report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, click here.