The national unemployment rate rose to 9.0 percent in April, up from 8.8 percent in March, according to figures released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor It's the first increase in the rate since November.
Employers added a net of 244,000 new jobs to their payrolls last month, but the government agency says its tally of the number of unemployed was ""little changed"" at 13.7 million, as people who had previously given up looking for work resumed their search.
Job creation in the private sector accounted for all of last month's gains, with 268,000 new employees added Ã¢â‚¬"" the largest increase in private payrolls since February 2006. Public sector employment fell by 24,000.
The April numbers topped analysts' expectations, with the consensus forecast ranging from 185,000 to 186,000 new jobs overall and about 200,000 in the private sector.
Figures from March were revised upward to reflect 221,000 new jobs during the month, compared to 216,000 previously reported.
Although the headline rate ticked up, economist Paul Ashworth with the research firm Capital Economics says the 244,000 payroll increase in April will come as some-
thing of a relief to the financial markets, particularly after the surge in initial jobless claims reported Thursday and the slump in the ISM non-manufacturing index on Wednesday.
Overall, Ashworth says the numbers were ""very encouraging, although the rebound in the unemployment rate underlines how far we still have to go.""
In relaying the latest figures to members of Congress Friday morning, Keith Hall, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, explained that the number of people unemployed for less than 5 weeks increased by 242,000 in April, while the number jobless for 27 weeks or more declined by 283,000 to 5.8 million.
Hall also noted that among the employed, the number of individuals working part time who prefer full-time work stands at about 8.6 million.
The health of the labor market has strong implications for the housing market and future mortgage performance.
As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech last week to community development professionals and public-sector officials, ""Obviously, the problems in the labor market and the housing market are not unrelated. In particular, lost income from unemployment is causing many families to fall behind on their mortgage payments.""
As the economy continues to add jobs, however, the correlation is becoming evident in delinquency stats. Lender Processing Services (LPS) reported last week that declines in early-stage delinquencies led an 11 percent drop in its reading of the national delinquency rate in March, as fewer problem loans entered the pipeline.
In fact, 30-day and 60-day delinquent inventories are now approaching pre-crisis levels, according to LPS, with new problem loans now less than half 2009's peak levels.