For the last four years, the job market has suffered a spring slowdown. But maybe that cycle ended this April with a really solid government report on employment.
The jobless rate fell slightly to 7.5 percent, a four-year low, from 7.6 percent in March and down 0.4 percentage points since the start of the year. The improvements may be small, but they are headed in the right direction, have been reassuringly steady and break us closer to the 6.5 percent figure when the Fed says it will be confident enough to begin easing up on its record-low short-term interest rates.
The news gets better. The Department of Labor said it substantially underestimated -- by 114,000 -- the number of jobs employers added in February and March. The true figures are 332,000 in February and 138,000 in March.
The government issues the revised figures because some employers, especially small businesses, are simply slow in reporting.
The April improvement, a net increase of 165,000 jobs that far exceeded expectations, might have been better except for several daunting factors: the tax hikes at the beginning of the year; the across-the-board cuts in federal spending; the beginnings of a slowdown in Europe; and the continuing monthly loss of government jobs, down 11,000 last month.
Another healthy sign is the hiring in fields where consumer spending is largely discretionary, indicating that people are feeling a little more confident about their employability and job stability.
Employment in food services and drinking establishments increased 38,000 over the month. Indeed, job growth in the food-services industry, according to the department, has averaged 25,000 a month over the past 12 months.
Employment in retail increased 29,000 last month, and has been averaging 21,000 a month over the last 12.
This job growth, while impressive, even encouraging, still means it will be a long, slow slog to employ the 11.7 million Americans who say they want work but can't find it. But the figures were strong enough to prompt Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to suggest that the Obama administration and Congress concentrate on growth measures rather than spending cuts.
Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist.