Job seekers gather for employment opportunities at the 11th annual...

Job seekers gather for employment opportunities at the 11th annual Skid Row Career Fair at the Los Angeles Mission (May 31, 2012) Credit: AP

There's no way to put a happy face on the May jobs report: It stinks.

The unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, ending an 11-month run when the rate was dropping, You can argue -- and the White House will -- that the increase in the unemployment rate was because so many Americans, 642,000 of us, tried to reenter the workforce.

Statistically, that's true but of little comfort to the 12.7 million still unemployed, a number that rose by 220,000.

The grimmer number is that last month the economy created only 69,000 jobs, the fewest in a year, and to make it even worse, the government revised downward by 49,000 jobs the number of jobs created in the previous two months.

To begin returning to robust employment, we need to return to the levels of January through March, when jobs were being created at the rate of 226,000 a month.

Construction, a bellwether industry, lost 28,000 jobs while manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, education and health-care all added jobs; governments, the hospitality and leisure industry and professional services all shed jobs.

On its White House blog the Obama administration said the unemployment figures should be considered in the context of other, more positive economic trends, which is how economists would regard them, but is of little comfort to someone who can't find a job. The blog had a list of job-creating initiatives the White House had sent to Congress but that the lawmakers had failed to act on. Again, small comfort to the jobless.

Mitt Romney called the May figures "devastating" and again touted his background in private business but without saying how, specifically, that would result in more jobs.

The unemployment figure is perhaps our most politically sensitive statistic, and May's number was clearly bad news for the White House, but the U.S. economy is so massive the politicians can only affect it at the margins unless they almost willfully drive it off a cliff, as could happen this coming Jan. 1 if tax and spending issues are not resolved.

Even then there are significant external forces outside their control: major defaults in Europe, a partial collapse of the eurozone and a slowing economy in China, to name a few.

The key question is whether May's numbers are only a bump in the road or the start of a longer-term trend. Let's hope it's merely a statistical pothole.

Dale McFeatters is a senior correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service in Washington.


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