Fast food nation: What's driving the jobs numbers

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May jobs report by the numbers

America's fast-moving jobs train is being powered by fast food.

May's big gain in nonfarm payrolls helped allay fears that employment growth was stuck in the same mud bog that has muted growth across other economic sectors this year. The U.S. has been averaging 251,000 net new jobs a month over the past year, with May's 280,000 topping even that number.

Looking over that time, and indeed the past decade or so, tells a less glittery story.

In the past 10 years, the headline unemployment rate is actually higher now—from 5.1 percent in May 2005 to the current 5.5 percent. The number gets even worse when you factor in the labor force participation rate, as the Labor Department does not count in the headline rate those working part time for economic reasons or who have quit looking for work. In that decade span, the labor force participation rate has tumbled from 66.1 percent to 62.9 percent, which is near the lowest level in more than 35 years,.

Factoring in the underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work, the rate has gone from 8.9 percent to 10.8 percent.

The National Employment Labor Project, which advocates for the jobless, pointed out another sobering statistic Friday: Fast food industry jobs have set the pace since 2000, rising 23.3 percent, against a 5.1 percent overall gain in private sector job growth.

In New York City specifically, fast food jobs exploded by 87 percent, or about twice the rate of the previous 15-year period. In New York state, the gain was 57 percent at a time when private jobs increased by just 7 percent.