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Climb in joblessness hits 22-year high

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KAI RYSSDAL: The oil story took its time getting going today. But Wall Streeters were sweating early all the same thanks to the May unemployment report — 49,000 jobs lost. And a big jump in the unemployment rate — up half a percent to 5.5 percent. That’s its biggest increase since 1986. From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: There are two government surveys on employment. The payroll survey asks businesses how many people they’re employing. The household survey checks in with individual households about who is employed and unemployed. Brian Bethune is chief U.S. financial economist with Global Insight. He says the payroll numbers have been dropping for several months.

Brian Bethune: Whereas, the household numbers haven’t been quite as weak as that. So we were expecting a shoe to drop on the household survey and indeed that’s what we got today.

It landed with a bigger thud than many expected. Diane Swonk is chief economist at Mesirow Financial. She’s keeping her cool.

Diane Swonk: We probably overstated the increase. So not only did we have catch-up, we also have a hard time capturing when college students leave their campuses and enter the labor force for summer jobs.

So she says we could see a dip in unemployment in June. But in general employment is on a downward slide, says Global Insight’s Brian Bethune.

BETHUNE: If you look at the sectors that have been shedding jobs — construction, automotive, financial services — we don’t see that trend changing for another three-to-four months.

Employers have been cutting workers’ hours too. But they’ve boosted productivity. So Swonk says today’s sell-off on Wall Street is short-sighted.

SWONK: Over the course of the next 12 months or so we’re going to see profits actually recover fairly nicely and I think that’s going to ultimately be reflected in equity prices.

But she says it’ll take a lot longer before Main Street bounces back.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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