The best month for private-sector hiring in five years and a pickup in summer jobs helped lower unemployment rates in more than 90 percent of the nation’s largest cities in April, including seven of eight metropolitan areas tracked in Puerto Rico.
The unemployment rate dropped in 339 metro areas nationwide in April, the U.S. Labor Department said Wednesday. It rose in 20 cities and remained unchanged in 13. It was the most cities to see a decline in a year.
In Puerto Rico, unemployment fell nearly across the board, according to statistics from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Puerto Rico’s overall unemployment in April fell to 16.2 percent from 16.9 percent during the same month a year ago. The jobless rate in all eight metro regions was lower when compared with March levels.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate ticked up in April to 9 percent and U.S. companies added 268,000 jobs in April, the third month in which the private sector created more than 200,000 jobs.
Puerto Rico’s jobless rolls totaled 205,300 in April, down from 221,200 a year ago. The total civilian workforce reached 1.26 million, down from 1.31 million during the same month last year.
The latest BLS statistics show the unemployment rate in the vital San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo region, which accounts for nearly 67 percent of all jobs in Puerto Rico, fell to 15.4 percent in April, down from 16.1 percent a year ago.
The BLS said there were 129,500 unemployed people looking for work in the San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo statistical area in April, which was down from the 140,300 registered a year ago.
There were 841,600 civilian employees in the area in April, compared with 872,400 during the same month in 2010, according to the BLS numbers.
The decline in unemployment accompanied by a drop in jobs could be a reflection of the exit of frustrated job seekers who have given up their searches for work amid the marathon recession in Puerto Rico.
Fajardo was the only metro area to see an increase in unemployment, rising to 19.9 percent in April from 19.2 percent during the same month in 2010.
Unemployment in the Aguadilla-Isabela-San Sebastián area fell to 17 percent in April from 17.7 percent a year ago.
Guayama’s jobless rate dropped to 22 percent from 23.2 percent a year ago.
The jobless rate in Mayagüez fell to 17.4 percent in April from 18.2 percent in the same month in 2010.
Unemployment in Ponce fell to 16.1 percent from 16.8 percent.
The San German-Cabo Rojo area saw its unemployment drop to 15.6 percent from 16.4 percent.
Yauco’s jobless rate fell to 19.3 percent from 20 percent a year ago.
Nationally, many of the areas with the steepest declines are tourist destinations, such as Ocean City, N.J., where hotels and tourist attractions add workers for the summer season. The metro employment data isn’t seasonally adjusted for such trends and as a result can be volatile from month to month.
Salinas, Calif., which is near tourist destinations Monterey and Carmel, reported the sharpest decline. Unemployment there fell from 16.5 percent in March to 12.6 percent in April.
Barnstable Town, Mass., near Cape Cod, said its unemployment rate dropped from 10.5 percent to 8.2 percent, the third-steepest decline. New Bedford, Mass., near Martha’s Vineyard, said its rate fell from 12.6 percent to 10.7 percent, the fifth-steepest drop.
The pickup in hiring is “increasingly diversified across geographic regions,” said Steve Cochrane, a regional economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The unemployment rate is falling nearly everywhere.”
By contrast, many of the cities seeing declines last year were in the Midwest. They benefited from gains in manufacturing, one of a few sectors to show strength since the recession ended in June 2009.
Over the past year, the 30 cities with the biggest drops in unemployment were all in the Midwest, Cochrane said. But in April, those same cities reported little improvement.
“The manufacturing side has led the recovery, but we are starting to see that wane a little bit,” Cochrane said.
U.S. manufacturing activity expanded in May at the slowest pace in 20 months, a survey by a private trade group released Wednesday found. Consumer and business spending is slowing. That has cut new orders and production, the report by the Institute for Supply Management said. At the same time, demand for U.S. exports has fallen, reflecting weaker economies overseas.
The federal government will release the May employment report on Friday. The consensus forecast is that the economy added 180,000 net jobs last month and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.9 percent.
But many economists are lowering their individual forecasts after a spate of weak economic data, including the ISM report and a report Wednesday from payroll processor ADP that the private sector added only 38,000 jobs last month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.