U.S. hiring picks up with 559K jobs added; leisure, hospitality lead way

In a mild improvement over the previous month, the U.S. labor market added 559,000 jobs in May, according to Labor Department figures released last Friday.

Economists had expected roughly 671,000 new jobs, a significant step up from April’s disappointing 266,000. The unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, from 6.1 percent the previous month. Notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, and health care.

In May, employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 292,000, as pandemic-related restrictions continued to ease in some parts of the country. Nearly two-thirds of the increase was in food services and drinking places. Employment also rose in amusements, gambling, and recreation (+58,000) and in accommodation (+35,000). Still, employment in leisure and hospitality is down by 2.5 million, or 15.0 percent, from its level in February 2020.

Health care added 46,000 jobs in May. Employment in health care continued to trend up, reflecting a gain in ambulatory health care services (+22,000).

While the news is encouraging, there’s still a long road toward reaching pre-pandemic figures for many industries. For example, restaurants gained 186,000 jobs in May, and 10.83 million restaurant workers were on payroll. But that’s 1.46 million fewer than February 2020, when the industry boasted 12.29 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Restaurants and bars have lost more than $280 billion in sales because of COVID, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the National Restaurant Association reported that roughly 90,000 locations have closed.