The U.S. economy added 217,000 jobs in May as the 6.3 percent unemployment rate held steady, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday.
That's less than what the economy added in April but well above the sluggish job growth seen earlier this year, when the economy contracted in the first quarter.
The labor market has averaged gains of 234,000 jobs during the past three months, up from only 150,000 in the previous three.
Strong job growth figures from April were revised down marginally in the new report. It said the economy added 282,000 jobs in April — 6,000 less than initially forecast. The economy added 203,000 jobs in March.
The labor participation rate was unchanged in May at 62.8 percent.
The low percentage has sparked concerns, with some saying it suggests millions of people have dropped out of the labor force because they cannot find work. The rate has dropped 0.6 percent this year.
With that low a labor participation rate, it is more difficult for the nation to further reduce the unemployment rate.
“In any other time that [217,000] would be considered a very good job market,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, on CNBC. “If the labor force were growing at a normal pace that is double the rate of job growth necessary to get unemployment moving south.”
The economy has now regained all the jobs lost during the downturn, and Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said businesses have now added more than 1 million jobs so far this year.
“This month’s report continued the trend of steady job growth,” he said.
“While the consistent pace of job gains means the economy has come a long way in recovering from the Great Recession, the President believes that more can and should be done to strengthen economic growth and expand economic opportunity.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the May report “offers encouraging signs, but we still have a ways to go before getting beyond this new normal of slow growth.”
Boehner chided President Obama for proposing what he called a “national energy tax,” arguing that new Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut carbon emissions by existing power plants will “lower incomes and destroy jobs for years to come.”
“If, instead, we empower our people with freedom and opportunity, if we get government out of their way, it won’t be long before America is back on track for good,” he said.
One labor economist said the steady growth belies the fact that economy needs to add millions more jobs to truly erase the losses from the financial crisis and recession.
“This might sound like good news, but it is important to remember that return to the pre-recession level of employment does not mean we are back to health in the labor market,” said Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the Economic Policy Institute.
She said the economy needs 7 million more jobs to return to full health.
“At the current pace of job growth, it will take nearly four more years to fill in that gap,” she said.
Construction firms added just 6,000 jobs in May, and manufacturers gained 10,000.
Zandi said earlier this week that housing construction is vital to the continued growth of the labor market and the broader economy.
The health care industry added 34,000 jobs over the month, twice its average monthly gain for the last year, and the service sector continued its growth, adding 39,000 jobs.