Private Hiring Slows More Than Expected as Labor Market Cools

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The red-hot U.S. labor market showed further signs of cooling in May as private hiring slowed more than anticipated, according to the latest employment report from payroll processor ADP.

Companies added just 152,000 jobs last month, coming in well below economist projections of a 175,000 increase. It marked the lowest level of monthly job gains since January and a notable deceleration from April’s downwardly revised 188,000 figure.

The ADP report, which captures private payroll changes but not government hiring, suggests the robust labor market demand that has characterized the pandemic recovery is moderating amid higher interest rates, still-elevated inflation, and growing economic uncertainty.

“Job gains and pay growth are slowing going into the second half of the year,” said Nela Richardson, ADP’s chief economist. “The labor market is solid, but we’re monitoring notable pockets of weakness tied to both producers and consumers.”

A Shift Toward Services
While goods-producing sectors like manufacturing, mining, and construction have driven solid hiring for much of the recovery, last month they contributed only 3,000 net new jobs.

Job creation was instead carried by services industries, led by trade/transportation/utilities with 55,000 new positions. Other strong areas included education/health services (+46,000), construction (+32,000), and other services (+21,000).

However, even within services there were weak spots, including the previously booming leisure/hospitality sector which saw just a 12,000 job gain in May. Professional/business services also posted a decline.

Manufacturers Slashing Payrolls
The report highlighted particular softness in the manufacturing sector, which shed 20,000 jobs last month amid a broader industrial slowdown.

Factories have been cutting payrolls for most of the past 18 months as higher material and energy costs, supply chain disruptions, and softening demand weighed on production. The sector has contracted in seven of the last eight months, according to survey data.

Regional manufacturing indexes have also pointed to slowing activity and employment levels, including the latest readings from the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve districts.

Small Businesses Feeling the Pinch
Companies with fewer than 50 employees were disproportionately impacted in May, seeing a net decrease in headcounts. Those with 20-49 workers reduced staffing levels by 36,000.

The pullback at smaller firms underscores how rapidly tightening financial conditions and ebbing consumer demand have started to squeeze profits and required some businesses to adjust their workforce levels.

Annual Pay Growth Steady at 5%
Despite some loss of momentum in overall hiring, the ADP report showed private wage growth stayed on a 5% annual trajectory last month, holding steady at that level for a third consecutive period.

The elevated but moderating pace of pay increases suggests employers are still working to attract and retain staff even as overall job creation starts to wane from its torrid pandemic-era pace.

While a single data point, the ADP release could preview what’s to come from the more comprehensive government nonfarm payrolls report due out Friday. Economists expect that report to show a 190,000 increase in total U.S. payrolls for May, slowing from April’s 253,000 gain.

As borrowing costs continue climbing and spending softens, further hiring deceleration across both goods and services sectors seems likely in the months ahead, though an outright decline remains unlikely based on most economic projections.


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