Originally created 05/08/99

Unemployment up slightly



WASHINGTON -- The economy generated almost a quarter-million new jobs last month, even as factory work continued to melt away. The surge outside manufacturing helped push the unemployment rate among blacks down to its lowest level on record, although the overall national rate edged up to 4.3 percent.

"The economy is so strong that it is reaching down and touching everyone. Across all income groups, ethnic groups and educational levels, everyone is doing well," said economist Mark Zandi of Regional Financial Associates in West Chester, Pa.

For a year now, unemployment has held below 4.5 percent, as the country's longest economic expansion in peacetime history continues to surprise analysts with its vigor in the midst of hard times overseas.

April's overall jobless rate of 4.3 percent was only slightly above the 29-year-low of 4.2 percent reached in March, the Labor Department said Friday.

The unemployment rate for blacks fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest since the government began tracking it separately in 1972. However, blacks remain jobless at more than double the 3.8 percent unemployment rate for whites.

President Clinton, who hopes the healthy economy will persuade voters to keep a Democrat in the White House next year, called the report "good news for our working families."

Despite strong demand from confident consumers at home, U.S. manufacturers have been hurt by a global economic crisis that started in Asia almost two years ago. Falling demand for American products abroad and an influx of discount-priced imports has brought the U.S. trade deficit to a record high.

The April unemployment report showed that jobs in manufacturing fell by another 29,000, bringing total job losses at American factories since March of last year to 402,000.

The weakness in manufacturing included a drop of 7,000 jobs because of a strike in shipbuilding. Other manufacturing industries that shed jobs last month were in aircraft, industrial machinery, textiles, mining and fabricated metals such as steel.

The loss of factory jobs, however, was more than compensated for by a huge gain of 131,000 new positions in the service industries.

Employment for business services climbed by 51,000 while temporary help firms added 18,000 jobs. Jobs in health care rose by 23,000, while restaurants and bars added 64,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate, based on a separate survey of households, rose in April because while jobs were up, the number of people entering the work force looking for employment grew even more rapidly.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Wednesday that the U.S. economy is enjoying a "phenomenal" performance but warned that imbalances reflected by tight labor markets might trigger pressures on employers to increase wages. That could lead to higher inflation down the road.