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Jobs data darkens economic horizon; Accelerated recovery not expected in 20121

Faced with a fizzling job market, many economists have turned more pessimistic and no longer think U.S. economic growth will accelerate later this year.

Friday's surprisingly bleak jobs report for May followed a spate of weak U.S. economic data last week. Manufacturing activity slowed, an index of home contracts fell, and consumer confidence tumbled. Mounting troubles in Europe and elsewhere have heightened economists' concerns.

Julia Coronado, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York, said she now expects growth of 2.2 percent this year, down from her previous forecast of 2.4 percent. She also revised downward her estimate of growth in the April-June quarter to an annual rate of 2.2 percent, from 2.5 percent.

"We keep hoping that we're going to turn a corner and move into a stronger phase of recovery, and the door keeps getting slammed shut," Coronado said.

As a general rule, it takes about 2.5 percent growth to generate enough hiring to keep up with population growth and prevent the unemployment rate from rising. The reduced forecasts suggest that hiring may not strengthen much this year.

After months of fitful expansion since the recession officially ended three years ago, many analysts had expected the economy to begin strengthening steadily.

Last month, the National Association for Business Economics said that its latest survey of economists found rising expectations for job gains and housing construction. And in April, the Federal Reserve raised its forecast for growth this year to nearly 2.7 percent, from a January estimate of 2.5 percent.

Now it looks as if the recovery is stumbling again.

The biggest blow was Friday's jobs report. It said employers added only 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in a year. The government also said far fewer jobs were added in the previous two months than first thought -- 11,000 fewer in March and 38,000 fewer in April. And the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent, from 8.1 percent, the first increase since last June.

Less hiring means fewer Americans have money to spend. That holds down consumer spending, which drives about 70 percent of the economy and helps fuel job growth. And a rising unemployment rate tends to reduce confidence. That can further shrink spending.

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