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Jobs down, but outlook brightens for U.S. economy

Loss of 20,000 jobs in April is the smallest decline this year.

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America's labor market continued to weaken in April, but the news came with a silver lining: The economy shed fewer jobs than in other recent months.

The news – better than many forecasters expected but not outright positive – is important because the overall economy depends heavily whether employers are boosting or cutting payrolls. If most people have jobs, they can keep spending, simple as that.

The Labor Department numbers released Friday were mixed, but on balance negative:

•Total US jobs fell by 20,000, as measured by a survey of employers. By comparison, the economy lost about 80,000 jobs in each of the year's first three months, after modest gains throughout last year.

•Unemployment, measured in a separate survey of workers, fell to 5 percent from 5.1 percent in March. In this survey, the number of people employed rose during the month, but so did the number of people who have part-time jobs but want full-time work.

•The hours in a typical work week fell both at factories and in the broader economy.

•Wages for nonsupervisory workers grew, but by just a penny to $17.88 per hour on average. Rising costs for things like gasoline mean that wages have actually been falling, when measured against inflation, in recent months.

"The April employment report was a curious mixture," economist Nigel Gault wrote in a report for Global Insight, a forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass. "The headline jobs decline was less than expected ... but the most cyclically-sensitive indicators in the report showed unrelenting weakness."

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