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US adds 55,000 jobs. Wait, it's gotta be more.

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Bebeto Matthews/AP

(Read caption) Job seekers wait on line to see potential employers at the Diversity Job Fair in New York on June 2. On Thursday, the ADP employment report said the economy added 55,000 jobs in May. But the federal government's jobs report should show stronger growth.

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It's not a jobless recovery, exactly, but by some measures the upturn in US employment is a joyless one.

In May, the private sector added 55,000 jobs, according to an ADP employment report released Thursday. That was the fourth month in a row that employment has risen, according to ADP data, but the upturn has been shallow.

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No, strike that. It's been measly.

After the last recession, when the economy finally began adding jobs in 2003, employment rose an average 103,000 a mont during the first four months. This time, it's only 39,000 a month.

That's not enough to employ all the college graduates and others joining the workforce every month, let alone hire back those now unemployed.

It the employment picture really that gloomy?

Maybe not. On Friday, the Labor Department will release the official employment numbers, which are sure to be much more upbeat.

Much of that strength will come from the hiring of an estimated 400,000 or more temporary census workers, which the ADP survey doesn't count. Even without them, however, many analysts expect the pickup in employment to be roughly 200,000.

That's a big difference: 55,000 vs. 200,000. Who's right?

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Pessimists think the official Labor Department numbers are overstated and will be revised downward eventually. But other economists and recruitment officials are more upbeat.

"Overall, the labor market is improving," says Scot Melland, CEO of Dice Holdings, which runs specialized career websites in the technology, financial services, and healthcare industries.

His optimism stems from the recruitment activity he's seeing on his websites as well as his company's survey of employers last month. In that survey, more than half said they planned to do more hiring in the second half of this year than in the first. A quarter said they had hiked salares for new hires and only 10 percent said that layoffs were likely.

"We are seeing a nice gradual recovery," Mr. Melland says.

"In recent months the ADP survey has been markedly more downbeat than the official nonfarm payroll survey," writes Paul Ashworth, an economist with Capital Economics in Toronto, in an analysis. "We suspect the official payroll survey may be closer to the truth."