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Hiring Improved In May, A Relief For An Economy In Need Of Workers : NPR

Recruiters looking to fill positions at O’Hare International Airport meet with candidates during a job fair at the Chicago airport on May 19. Hiring was expected to have picked up last month, providing a shot of relief to an economy in need of workers as businesses start to reopen again.

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Recruiters looking to fill positions at O’Hare International Airport meet with candidates during a job fair at the Chicago airport on May 19. Hiring was expected to have picked up last month, providing a shot of relief to an economy in need of workers as businesses start to reopen again.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Hiring picked up steam last month, providing a shot of relief to an economy that needs workers as millions of Americans again start to venture out.

U.S. employers added 559,000 jobs in May, after lackluster gains the month before. Unemployment fell to 5.8%, from 6.1% in April.

Bars and restaurants added 186,000 jobs, while factories added 23,000. Industry surveys released earlier this week suggest job gains might have been stronger, had the supply of workers not been constrained.

An index of service-sector activity hit an all time high in May as newly vaccinated Americans flocked to restaurants, movie theaters and other venues that had been off limits during the depths of the pandemic.

“It’s almost like a jail break,” said Anthony Nieves, who compiles the index for the Institute for Supply Management. “People are looking to get out and do things. Definitely the demand is exceeding the supply.”

Many industries report challenges in finding enough workers. Some are offering $50 bonuses to any job applicant who showed up for an interview.

The Federal Reserve also highlighted staffing challenges in its latest “Beige Book,” which compiles anecdotal reports from business contacts around the country.

“Many firms indicated they were operating with fewer staff members than they would like because of a dearth of job applicants,” the Fed noted, adding this was especially true at the lower end of the wage spectrum.

Businesses pointed to a variety of factors behind the shortage of job applicants, including “workers’ health concerns, child-care constraints, and generous unemployment benefits.”

During the pandemic, Congress authorized supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 per week, which are scheduled to expire in early September. More than two dozen states have announced plans to cut those benefits off earlier — in some cases as early as next week — in an effort to push people back to work.

Economists are divided on the degree to which enhanced benefits have discouraged people from seeking jobs.

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