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Continued: Solid job gains reported in April; US unemployment rate down to 4-year low of 7.5 percent

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER , Associated Press
  • Last update: May 3, 2013 - 6:31 PM

The housing recovery is helping drive more hiring. Rising home sales and construction help create jobs and increase spending on furniture, landscaping and other services.

One company that's benefited is SolarCity, based in San Mateo, Calif. Rising home building has helped increase demand for the solar-power systems the company installs in homes and businesses.

CEO Lyndon Rive said SolarCity added 177 jobs in April and will welcome its 3,000th employee Monday. It is hiring engineers, installers and administrative support staff and still has 400 openings.

Consumers have been spending more even though their take-home pay was shrunk this year by a Social Security tax increase. On top of that, the economy has been under pressure from the across-the-board government spending cuts that began taking effect March 1. And some small and midsize companies are concerned about new requirements under the federal health care law.

Americans' confidence in the economy jumped last month, lifted by a brighter outlook for hiring and expectations for higher pay, according to the Conference Board, a research group. Cheaper gasoline, the booming stock market and rising home values are also no doubt making people more confident.

The average sales price of a home rose 9.3 percent in February compared with a year ago, the most in nearly seven years, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index.

Yet the global economy, by contrast, is slowing. The European Union warned Friday, for example, that the 17 countries that use the euro will shrink by a collective 0.4 percent this year. And unemployment in the eurozone is 12.1 percent. In Greece and Spain, it's roughly 27 percent.

Both Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi have suggested that governments need to focus on stimulating growth and not just on spending cuts and deficit reduction.

Economists have forecast that the U.S. economy will grow roughly 2 percent this year, below last year's 2.2 percent. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the tax increases and government spending cuts will have shaved about 1.25 percentage points from growth this year. That means that without those measures, the economy could have grown a strong 3.3 percent in 2013.

Some economists worry that restaurants, retailers and other companies are hiring more part-timers in preparation for the start of health care reform. Companies with more than 50 full-time employees in 2013 will be required to provide health insurance to their full-time staff next year.

Retailers, restaurants and hotels added 48,000 more jobs in February than previously reported. They accounted for three-quarters of that month's revision.

The government revises each month's jobs total twice in the following two months. The revisions occur because many companies in the survey submit their responses late.

Friday's report said the number of people who have been unemployed for more than six months dropped 258,000 to 4.4 million.

Over the past year, the number of long-term unemployed has declined by 687,000. That's down from a peak of 6.7 million in 2010. But it's far above pre-recession levels of about 1.3 million.

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Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber

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