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Job market is weak, but not collapsing

The labor market wasn't as weak as expected in April, but it wasn't strong by any means. The recent data released by the Labor Department continues to show an economy near or in recession, with more jobs destroyed than created for a fourth straight month. Non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 in April after job losses averaging 80,000 in the first quarter of the year.

Economists were expecting a loss of 78,000. But because of the unique nature of this downturn, the job market hasn't collapsed as it typically does during a recession. The economy has two facets: Most industries dealing with real estate or the manufacture, shipping or sales of tangible goods are weak, although the boom in exports is keeping the factory sector from shedding as many jobs as it typically does. Most industries dealing with providing services, such as health care, education, professional services and accommodations are doing better.

Rather than laying off workers who may be needed if the economy turns around, firms are sharply cutting back on hours. Average hourly wages barely grew during the month, rising by just 1 cent. A separate survey of households painted a picture of a stronger job market in April. In that survey, employment rose by 362,000 after falling by 221,000 over the first quarter. Those gains pushed the unemployment rate back down to 5%.

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