Stephen Greene works a street corner hoping to land a...

Stephen Greene works a street corner hoping to land a job as a laborer or carpenter on June 3, 2011 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Employers in May added 54,000 jobs the fewest in eight months, and the unemployment rate inched up to 9.1 percent. (June 3, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

The nation added fewer jobs in May than expected, while unemployment edged up to 9.1 percent, the federal government reported Friday.

The weak numbers, coming after months of high oil prices that depressed consumer spending, spurred fears that the country could be sliding economically. Employers added a net 54,000 jobs last month, compared with average increases of 220,000 over the previous three months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The jobless rate had been 9 percent.

"Businesses took a more cautious approach to hiring in response to slower sales growth," said John Lonski, chief economist at Moody's Capital Markets Group. Higher gas prices have left consumers with less money to spend on other things, he said. "What's hurting business sales would be that jump in energy costs."

Lonski said one bright spot was falling gas prices. "If that continues I believe that you will see a pick up of spending and in turn an increase of hiring activity," he said.

The employment report capped off a week that saw poor housing numbers and a continuing decline in the stock market. The slow recovery left 13.9 million people out of work last month, basically unchanged from the previous month. While the private sector added 83,000 jobs in May, local governments shed 28,000.

President Barack Obama said in a speech to Chrysler workers in Toledo, Ohio, that the country still faced "headwinds."

During the economic downturn and the initial part of the recovery, Long Island was doing better in terms of job growth than the nation was, said Jim Brown, labor market analyst with the state Labor Department. But since December, Long Island's job growth has been trailing the national rate. In April, Long Island jobs grew by 0.6 percent, he said.

"Our growth has definitely decelerated and we've been running below the national numbers," Brown said.

The region, however, is a "relatively stable area," he said, pointing out that Long Island's unemployment rate -- 6.6 percent last month -- is significantly lower than the national rate.

"My faith is going to get me through this," said Cassandra Saunders, a Baptist who stopped in at the Workforce Partnership career center in Massapequa on Friday. "I don't want unemployment, I want to work."

Saunders, 47, who worked in information technology and lives in Amityville, has been looking for work since a contract job upgrading bank-branch phone systems ended in January. A single mother with two sons, she scrapes by on $405 a week with unemployment aid, child support and occasional jobs. She said she fills out job applications, sends resumes, networks on LinkedIn and Facebook but hasn't been able to find anything full-time.

"If this keeps up I'll have no other choice but to do something else or move," she said.Gail Paraninfo, director of the federal funded Workforce Partnership job centers in Hicksville and Massapequa, said that they have 200 to 250 new job seekers every week. Job seekers typically take six to eight months to land a job.

"It does take time to get a job," she said. "If they need training, they're going to take more time."

The slowing growth in retail sales crimps hiring, said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, a firm that tracks the retail industry. "All of the retailers have been particularly lean," Perkins said. "They're not adding stores . . . so they're not a big source of employment like they had once been."

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