WASHINGTON (AP) — Hiring has picked up in the past several months, and another strong job gain could boost hopes that the U.S. economy has rebounded after a grim start to the year.
Economists forecast that employers added 220,000 jobs in May, according to FactSet. That would be below April's burst of hiring, when 288,000 jobs were added, the most in 2½ years. But it would still be near the monthly average gain this year of 214,000 jobs.
The government will release the May employment report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Friday.
Analysts predict that the unemployment rate rose to 6.4 percent from 6.3 percent. But if it did, it will likely be because more people out of work started looking for jobs in May. The government counts people as unemployed only if they're actively seeking work. So when more people look for work, the unemployment rate can rise.
If at least 98,000 positions were added in May, the total number of U.S. jobs would finally return to its level in December 2007, when the Great Recession began. Yet that's hardly cause for celebration: The population has grown nearly 7 percent since then.
Economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimate that 7 million more jobs would have been needed to keep up with population growth. Average wages, meanwhile, have grown just 2 percent a year since the recession ended, below the long-run average annual growth of about 3.5 percent.
Many economists predicted late last year that growth would finally pick up in 2014 from the steady but modest pace that has persisted for the past four years.
But the economy actually contracted in the first three months of this year as a blast of cold weather shut down factories and kept consumers away from shopping malls and car dealerships. The U.S. economy shrank at a 1 percent annual rate in the first quarter, its first contraction in three years.
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