The Labor Department's monthly report on employment for May, released Friday morning, showed nearly all job growth came as a result of the hiring of temporary census workers and missed expectations by a wide margin.
The news sent stock markets into a tailspin at opening, with the major indices down more than 1.5% in the first minutes of trading.
The report said total nonfarm payroll employment grew by 431,000 in May, with 411,000 of those jobs coming via the census. The private sector added only 41,000 jobs, which were counterbalanced by job losses of about half that amount.
The unemployment rate slipped back to 9.7% as a result of the surge in temp workers at the Census Bureau.
Analysts were expecting a gain of 455,000 jobs; economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires were looking for 515,000.
The number of long-term unemployed (jobless for at least 27 weeks) was flat at 6.8 million; the number of unemployed reentrants to the labor force fell by 286,000 in May, offsetting an increase in April; the civilian labor force participation rate edged down by 0.2 percentage point to 65.0%; and the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) declined by 343,000 in May to 8.8 million.About 2.2 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in May, not seasonally adjusted, unchanged from a year earlier. Among the marginally attached, there were 1.1 million discouraged workers in May, up by 291,000 from a year earlier.
What few private sector job gains there were came via manufacturing, which added 29,000, temp services, which gained 31,000, and mining, which added 10,000.
Employment in construction declined by 35,000, offsetting gains in the industry in the prior two months. The unemployment rate in construction rose to 20.1%. May's job loss was spread throughout the sector, with trade contractors losing the most jobs and residential shedding 3,300 jobs to 580,300.
Government employment rose by 390,000 in May. The Federal government hired 411,000 temporary workers for Census 2010, bringing total temporary census staffing during the payroll survey reference period to 564,000. Employment in state government excluding education decreased by 13,000.