Blunting worries about the American economy’s momentum after a stretch of lackluster growth, the government reported on Friday that employers added a hefty 280,000 jobs in May, well above the average monthly totals logged over the last year.
The official unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent, as more Americans dived back into the labor pool and started actively looking for work. Higher hourly wages, which rose 0.3 percent last month, may have helped lure back some sidelined workers while providing those already on the job with some long-awaited gains.
The return of stronger job growth is also likely to strengthen the resolve of Federal Reserve officials who are hoping to start raising interest rates from their near-zero level later this year.
“This is a confirmation that the economy is performing well and the first quarter was an aberration,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust.
He added that he was encouraged by the growth in wages, which have now risen 2.3 percent over last year. “It’s good for workers and also a sign that capacity in the labor market is being utilized more fully.”
Although the report provides just a snapshot of the economy and is subject to revision, analysts looked to this freshest set of figures to help pierce the confusion over whether the economy’s contraction of 0.7 percent during the first quarter of 2015 was a blip, partly a casualty of the harsh winter, or evidence of a more fundamental slowdown. Many liked what they saw in the labor data.
“This is the best combination of numbers we have seen in many months,” said Tara M. Sinclair, an associate professor of economics at George Washington University and an economist at Indeed.com. She was unconcerned about the bump up in the jobless rate because “wages are ticking up and attracting people back into the labor force; we are still seeing strong employment growth.”
The proportion of the working age population that is employed — which some economists consider a bellwether of how the economy is performing — rose to 59.4 percent. It is the highest point since the recovery began six years ago.