The rate had reached an eight-year high in April, when it hit 6 percent.
Despite the drop, however, the number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer continued to rise, to 1.6 million. The addition of 142,000 people to the long-term jobless comprised about 20 percent of total unemployment in May.
The Associated Press observes that the economy is emerging from last year's recession, but the job market has been unable to support the number of people looking for jobs, causing the unemployment rate to hover near 6 percent for months. Economists have projected that the unemployment rate will climb as high as 6.5 percent this summer.
In Friday's report, the number of people in the labor force was little changed in May at 142.8 million.
Employment in the services industry - normally the engine of job creation in the country - increased by 68,000 last month following similar gains in the previous two months.
Hiring at temporary employment firms has contributed to the increase of services jobs. Those firms added 25,000 jobs in May for a gain of 126,000 since February. The industry lost 806,000 jobs from September 2000 through February 2002.
Economists are watching hiring at such firms because companies often tap temporary workers before they take on new full-time employees or rehire laid-off workers.
Engineering and management services added 23,000 jobs in May - mostly in management and public relations.
In retail, job losses in restaurants and bars totaled 33,000. Employment was unchanged in transportation and public utilities following losses of 347,000 since February 2001.
In government, employment in local education increased by 26,000 - which helped offset job losses in state government.
Manufacturing companies - which have been battered for more than a year - cut 19,000 jobs last month. But losses have moderated substantially since the beginning of the year. Employment had declined by an average of 115,000 a month from March 2001 through January 2002.
nation's unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in May - the first drop in three months, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday.