Economy added 263,000 jobs in April, unemployment falls to lowest level since 1969

It’s still a job hunter’s market, with more open positions than people available to fill them, pushing wages even higher as companies compete for the best workers.

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By Lucy Bayly

The economy added a healthy 263,000 jobs in April, firmly beating analyst expectations of 190,000, according to Friday’s monthly snapshot from the Department of Labor.

Wall Street reacted positively to the jobs report, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 160 points at market open on Friday.

The nation's unemployment level fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest since December 1969, and average hourly earnings grew by 0.2 percent, for an annual gain of 3.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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While some of those job gains can be attributed to government hiring of the first wave of temporary workers to carry out the 2020 Census — a number that will eventually hit 500,000 by early next year — April's figures are a firm indication that the economy remains on a robust growth track.

"With another strong employment report in April, we’ve gotten reassurance that the labor market is staying on a strong and steady course," said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group.

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With more open positions than people available to fill them, it's still a job hunter's market, pushing wages higher as companies compete for the best workers. That higher pay, together with low inflation and low borrowing rates, are boosting the economy. The Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday that for the third time this year it would not raise interest rates, citing inflation below its target rate of 2 percent as one of the reasons for that decision.

Still, with an average of just 180,000 jobs added per month, 2019 lags behind 2018, when 225,000 jobs were added each month. February saw just 56,000 job gains — a number that was twice revised upwards by the BLS. Around 100,000 jobs must be added each month in order to balance out population growth.

The retail industry continues to bleed, having lost more than 30,000 jobs in just the first four months of this year. April's figures show an additional decline of 12,000 in that sector. Construction added 33,000 jobs, health care rose by 27,000, and manufacturing gained 4,000 positions.

"We shouldn’t expect eye-popping jobs numbers to continue throughout this year," cautioned Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab. "The long-term unemployment rate remains almost twice what it was in the early 2000s, and the share of the labor that is working part-time but would prefer full-time work remains elevated above its low in the previous recovery."