Employers added 559K jobs in May, including 14.1K in accounting

Cecilia Nysing

Employment increased by 559,000 in May, while the unemployment rate declined 0.3 percentage point to 5.8%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, as the economy slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The main job gains happened in the leisure and hospitality industry, in public and private education, and in health care and social assistance. The professional and business services sector gained 35,000 jobs, including 14,100 jobs in accounting and bookkeeping services, where employment continued to trend upward.

The number of jobs added again fell short of analyst estimates, although in one positive sign, the unemployment rate fell to a new low since the start of the pandemic. The leisure and hospitality sector added 292,000 jobs, as pandemic-related restrictions continued to ease across the U.S. The labor force participation rate remained little changed at 61.6% in May and has stayed within a narrow range of 61.4 to 61.7% since June 2020. That participation rate is 1.7 percentage points lower than in February 2020 before the pandemic began shutting down parts of the country as many workers have stayed on the sidelines, despite the proliferation of job openings. Labor shortages seem to be pushing up wages. Average hourly earnings increased by 15 cents to $30.33 in May, after an increase of 21 cents in April.

“The participation rate slipped down and the wages went up a little bit,” said Phil Noftsinger, executive vice president at CBIZ, a Top 100 Firm. “I think those could be supporting factors related to the overarching theory that enhanced unemployment benefits are keeping some workers on the sidelines. I don’t know that they point directly to that, but those certainly would be supporting data for that theory. In professional services, there was job growth, but it was pretty light. That’s an area of pretty consistent job growth. If the rest of the economy was chugging along, as accommodation and food services are, I think we would see much bigger numbers.”

CBIZ produces its own Small Business Employment Index, and it showed a seasonally adjusted decrease of 0.21% for May after noteworthy growth in April, despite continued economic reopening in May. The CBIZ SBEI tracks payroll and hiring trends for over 3,500 companies that have 300 or fewer employees to provide insight into small business trends. CBIZ found hiring increases in arts and entertainment, accommodation and food services, real estate, and retail trade, but hiring decreases in professional services and health care. The Northeast was the only region to increase hiring, according to CBIZ, while the Central (-0.28%) and Southeast (-0.39%) regions, which generally reopened earlier, posted hiring decreases. The West (-0.5%), which trails the other U.S. regions on the reopening front, posted the biggest hiring decrease.

“In our numbers, we saw heavy food and accommodation services and heavy arts and entertainment, but had we had more aggressive hiring in the professional services ranks, our number would have been a lot better as well,” said Noftsinger. “We took the survey right after May 15, and so did the BLS, and a lot of professional services are accounting jobs. Most of that work wrapped up on May 15. I look at accounting and bookkeeping, and you would expect it to be positive almost every month. It almost always is, except for tragic situations. It’s really a question of how positive. It’s good news for that segment of professional services, but I would love to have seen it bigger for the overall group.”

Labor shortages have made accountants more selective about the jobs they are taking. “Accountants are getting multiple offers, and there is a candidate shortage right now,” said Alana Fassiotto, area portfolio leader at the staffing agency Accounting Principals. “Our clients at companies are having trouble finding the right talent. Most of the demand right now is traditional accounting and bookkeeping positions.”

Job candidates are being much more selective about the accounting and bookkeeping job offers they will accept, preferring to take positions where they can either work remotely or do a hybrid of remote and in-office work. Fassiotto estimated that 40% of the positions she placed in the first part of the year were remote roles for accountants. “Because candidates are getting multiple offers, we’re spending a lot of time consulting with our clients and advising them to act quickly because when they’re not acting quickly is when they’re losing out on the candidates,” she said. “In September, when the schools open up, we will see more women available as well.”

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