WASHINGTON - The White House said Friday that a spike in US jobless claims highlighted "slow growth" in the world's richest economy but rejected any talk that the economy was in a recession.
"The jobs numbers are consistent with slow rates of economic growth that we've had, but it is slow growth, but it is still positive," spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters.
"Certainly this isn't a report that we wanted to see today," he said, adding that 5.5 percent unemployment "is a number that is too high in our view, but it is lower than the average of the last three decades."
"We've seen choppy data on the economic front, and so we'll keep a close eye on it," said Stanzel, who dismissed talk of a US recession "because the data is not showing that."
The typical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth, and first quarter US growth was 0.6 percent -- anemic, but positive, he said.
"So it is the view of our economic advisors that we are in a slow-growth period and the economy is not growing as fast as we would like it to, and we are focused on growing the economy so more jobs are created," said Stanzel.
He spoke after US unemployment in May unexpectedly surged by the strongest increase in two decades, Labor Department data showed Friday, raising warning flags that the economy is headed in the wrong direction.
A shock half-point jump in the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent from 5.0 percent in April left analysts divided over whether the huge increase in the number of people seeking jobs is a sign of recession or a statistical fluke.
The stark increase made it more likely the Federal Reserve will forego hiking interest rates anytime soon, despite building inflationary pressures from spiraling energy and food prices, analysts said.
Most economists had expected a sharply lower unemployment rate of 5.1 percent. The increase was the largest monthly change since February 1986; the last time the rate rose more than 0.5 percentage point was in May 1980, when it climbed 0.6 point.