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A record warm winter may have allowed sectors like construction and retail to add more jobs than they otherwise might have.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

The American job market may be shifting into a lower gear this spring, a turn that economists have expected for months after a vigorous rebound from the pandemic shock.

Employers added 175,000 positions in April, the Labor Department reported Friday, undershooting forecasts. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9 percent.

A less torrid expansion isn’t necessarily bad news, given that layoffs have remained low and most sectors appear stable.

“It’s not a bad economy; it’s still a healthy economy,” said Perc Pineda, chief economist at the Plastics Industry Association. “I think it’s part of the cycle. We cannot continue robust growth indefinitely considering the limits of our economy.”

The labor market has defied projections of a considerable slowdown for over a year in the face of a rapid escalation in borrowing costs, a minor banking crisis and two major wars.

Lulls in interest-rate-sensitive sectors like technology and manufacturing have been offset by unabated growth in industries like health care, which is powered by aging demographics, and state and local government, which has been catching up after losing workers to better offers during the pandemic.

Federal funding has supported construction work on large infrastructure projects and private investment in clean energy development, as well as subsidies for industries like child care that continue to filter through the economy.

“Depending on where you land, it’s a question of how many of us can end up working for the government in some form or fashion,” said Belinda Román, an associate professor of economics at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

As wages have risen — outpacing inflation on average for nearly a year — more people have started looking for jobs, allowing employers to fill positions more quickly. The increased flow of both legal and undocumented immigrants added about 80,000 workers to the labor supply each month last year, according to calculations by Goldman Sachs, and will add another 50,000 per month this year.

And beyond public spending, much of the enduring strength stems from purchases by households, which have been burning through bank balances built during the pandemic. As savings rates decline and delinquency rates on consumer loans rise, that rocket fuel is likely to run dry, leaving an economy that’s still fundamentally sound.

“We are still forecasting what we’d call a modest slowdown, but we’ve got the picture improving again,” said Stephen Brown, deputy chief North America economist for Capital Economics. “For the average worker, it’s not going to feel like a slowdown.”



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