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Middle Tennessee employers added more than 8,000 people to their payrolls in May, buoyed in part by a hospitality sector gathering post-COVID strength — see the fireworks show audience on the Fourth — and a broader recovery in the service sector.

May’s nonfarm jobs gains came after an April in which the Nashville area’s employment base grew by just 800 people, which was down from an initial estimate of 2,000. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ revision of its March estimate also shaved off more than 1,000 jobs.) It also continues a stop-start trend in which the region’s jobs recovery has put up strong numbers one month only to produce so-so growth the next. Still, if the heightened number of June hiring fairs and announcements — which ranged from retail giants Kroger and Food Lion to auto supplier Magna International and stadium/events staffing company Best Crowd Management — was any indication, that pattern may be coming to an end.

May’s area job growth pushed the Nashville MSA’s unemployment rate below 4 percent for the first time since March 2020, albeit based on a denominator smaller than the figure in late 2019. Hiring was led by leisure and hospitality employers, which brought on a net of 2,900 people a month after growing their payrolls by 4,400 in April. Also chipping in toward net growth were finance and professional/business services firms, which added a 2,100 and 2,500 people, respectively, to their organizations. Area manufacturers hired a net 1,300 people during the month.

Zooming out, Greater Nashville’s total nonfarm payrolls stood at a little more than 1.03 million at the end of May, which was up 10.4 percent from 12 months earlier but still down 1.3 percent — or nearly 14,000 jobs — from the mark of two years prior. For the Middle Tennessee economy to close that two-year gap, employers will need to add an average of 5,600 jobs per month for the rest of 2021. To climb back to where it would have been based on 2014-2019 trends, that monthly number needs to jump to nearly 15,000 per month.

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