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In this economy, it's a good time to be looking for work

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Whether you're searching for a summer job or a whole new career, it's a great time to be looking for work. Employers are beating the bushes for workers to wait tables, staff assembly lines and keep watch over people at swimming pools. And this morning, we learned that U.S. employers added 390,000 jobs last month while the unemployment rate held steady at 3.6%. NPR's Scott Horsley is here. Scott, so how do those numbers stack up with what we've seen in the previous months?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It's another strong month of job growth, A. It is a little bit of a down shift, but forecasters have been expecting that, not because there's any less demand for workers, but there just aren't that many more workers available. Unemployment was already low at 3.6%. About 330,000 people joined or rejoined the workforce last month. And that's basically the limiting factor on job gains these days. I talked to Matt Eckert. He runs an amusement park and waterpark in Santa Claus, Ind. He typically hire about 2,200 workers for the summer. So far, he's hired less than that, about 30% less. He's not panicking yet but says he is eager to get those numbers up before the peak of the summer season.

MATT ECKERT: Our full-time staff jumps in and helps when need be. I've ran my share of rides. I've made my share of pizzas. I've powdered my share of funnel cakes. And we do whatever we got to do to make sure that we get the job done.

HORSLEY: Eckert's big challenge this year has been finding lifeguards and waterslide attendants, so the park is offering a thousand-dollar bonus for those positions There's actually a nationwide shortage of lifeguards. And that could keep some swimming pools out of commission during the hot summer months.

MARTINEZ: All right. So what else are employers doing to fill that gap?

HORSLEY: Well, Eckert's theme park provides transportation for workers. They bus people in from up to an hour away. Now that school's out in Indiana, he's hoping more students and teachers will be looking for summer jobs. At the other end of the age scale, some employers are hoping to lure older workers out of retirement. We did see a significant jump last month in the number of workers 55 and up. Tim Fiore surveys factory managers every month for the Institute for Supply Management. He says factories did have somewhat more success filling jobs in May than the month before, but they're still experiencing a lot of employee turnover.

TIM FIORE: There is some improvement, but, you know, there's a long way to go. And I think on the employment side here, it's going to be a slow slog because there just isn't that much labor out there.

HORSLEY: Employers are having to work harder to attract scarce workers. Some are providing more flexible schedules and better benefits. Of course, wages have been going up. Average wages last month were 5.2% higher than a year ago.

MARTINEZ: All right. So it's good to see wages going up. But if prices go up, I mean, how much does it help?

HORSLEY: That's right. And part of what concerns the inflation watchdogs at the Federal Reserve is these wage increases and the effect on inflation, which is near a 40-year high. The Fed's begun raising interest rates, an effort to tamp down demand and get control over prices. But the central bank has also been keeping a close eye on the job market. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers told The Washington Post this week it's going to be hard to curb inflation if wages continue to climb.

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LARRY SUMMERS: I don't think there's a durable reduction in inflation without a meaningful reduction in wage growth. And right now, with the labor market so tight, I don't see such a meaningful reduction in wage growth taking place.

HORSLEY: Wage gains have moderated somewhat in recent months, but Summers thinks it's going to take a downturn in the job market for wages to level off. And that's why he's skeptical the Fed can bring down inflation without triggering a recession.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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