The much smaller-than-expected reduction in payroll jobs, reported by the Labor Department on Friday, adds to evidence that the recession is loosening its hold on the country. It marked the fourth straight month that the pace of layoffs slowed.
Still, the increase in the nation's unemployment rate underscores the difficulties that America's 14.5 million unemployed are having in finding new jobs.
If laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have settled for part-time work are included, the unemployment rate would have been 16.4 percent in May, the highest on records dating to 1994.
Even with layoffs slowing, companies will be reluctant to hire until they feel certain that economic conditions are improving and that any recovery will last.
Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost a net total of 6 million jobs.