May job growth falls off cliff

The economy added just 54,000 jobs in May, far fewer than economists-- who were already pessimistic about the labor market--had expected. That's the fewest new jobs added in eight months, and it's the latest sign that the fragile recovery may have ground almost to a halt.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent from 9 percent, according to the Labor Department's monthly jobs report.

Responding to a series of negative signs--a rise in first-time jobless claims, a slowdown in manufacturing activity, and a weak private-sector jobs report this week--economists had forecast that around 170,000 jobs would be created in May. Even that figure would have been a major slowdown from the 232,000 created in April, and far too few to put a dent in the unemployment rate.

The number of private-sector jobs increased by only 83,000--the lowest figure since last June--while public-sector jobs declined by 29,000, thanks to budget cuts by cash-strapped state and local governments.

Large-scale long-term unemployment has been a key feature of the jobs crisis. And in May, the number of long-term unemployed--defined as those who are out of work for 27 weeks or more--rose by 361,000, to 6.2 million, the report found. Their share of the total pool of jobless Americans rose to more than 45 percent.

(An unemployed man looks at job listings at JobTrain in Menlo Park, Calif., April 2011.: Paul Sakuma/AP)