Many Americans -- especially those in the job market -- have been whipsawed in recent weeks in trying to determine just in which direction the economy is heading. Today's employment report did little to ease that back and forth, with the Labor Department reporting that the nation's employers added just 115,000 jobs in April, fewer than anticipated.
The nation's unemployment rate, however, fell one-tenth of a percent to 8.1 percent. But as was the case last month, the decline had less to with Americans finding jobs than with more of them dropping out of the labor market.
The report, which many labor-market watchers labeled anemic, caused some analysts to suggest that the U.S. economy needs another round of economic stimulus. "When I say Q-E you say 3! Q-E!," tweeted The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, referring to "quantitative easing"; it was employed by the Federal Reserve in two previous instances to boost the economy by increasing the nation's supply of money.
Still, there were those who saw enough good news in the report to suggest that the U.S. labor market will continue to grow, albeit modestly. David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, wrote via Twitter: "Jobs report weak, doesn't change basic story about econ. Mar/Apr weaker than Jan/Feb. Most econos think 4-month avg is true picture."
But, he added, there is a "clear risk" that the slowdown in job creation that occurred in March and April -- compared to robust growth seen in the three previous months -- "is more than weather-related blip and that economy has truly entered a new slowdown."
Economists assessing March's disappointing figures suggested last month that the slowdown was the result of increased hiring in January and February, pushed forward by an unusually warm winter in many parts of the country. Friday's jobs report, however, did revise upward the number of jobs created in March to 154,000, up from the previously reported 120,000.
It's just those kinds of revisions that prompted The Hired Guns, a staffing firm, to tweet: "Rear View Mirror Interesting...BLS keeps revising Monthly jobs numbers up; Expect that April will get revised up next month."
Another good sign in April's report was a drop in the number of government-sector job cuts, with the Labor Department reporting "little change" in employment levels. Layoffs by state and local governments have been a drag on the labor market for a while, as politicians across the nation sought to balance budgets by cutting labor costs.
But some analysts expressed concern that the weak jobs reports means that the recovery has lost its momentum and that a strong surge in hiring is still months away.
"It shows sluggish growth," John Doyle, currency strategist at Tempus Consulting in Washington, told Reuters.
Neil Irwin, economics reporter at The Washington Post, noted via Twitter that the "Report isn't bad enough to be a game-changer, but this has to put to rest theories that we're bursting into rapid growth."