Job Market Rebounded in March As Employers Added 196K to Payrolls
It may not have been March madness, but the job market rebounded strongly last month, solidly trouncing economists’ expectations.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that nonfarm payrolls grew by 196,000 jobs in March, well above the 165,000 jobs most economists expected, while the nation’s unemployment rate held steady at 3.8 percent.
Health care led with 49,000 new workers; professional and technical services added 34,000; and food and drinking establishments hired an additional 27,000 workers.
Construction rose by 16,000 but manufacturing saw a bit of a contraction, shedding 6,000 jobs.
The weakness stemmed from a sharp drop in employment among automakers, likely reflecting layoffs by General Motors.
In February the automotive giant laid off 4,250 workers in a move to “accelerate its transformation for the future.”
The rebound in the overall March employment numbers was especially noteworthy given the absolutely wretched jobs report the bureau issued in February, when employers added just 20,000 jobs. On Friday the bureau revised that number up to a still anemic 33,000.
January’s huge gain of 311,000 was also revised in Friday’s report, to 312,000.
Over the entire first quarter of the year, job gains averaged 180,000 per month, well below the 233,000 average monthly gain for all of 2018.
Gad Levanon, the chief economist for North America at The Conference Board, a non-partisan think tank, said with Friday’s report, “concerns about an imminent major employment slowdown after the abysmal February job numbers are muted for now.”
However, he also said the March report includes a few warning signs about the future.
“First, the number of jobs in the temporary help industry, one of the most reliable leading indicators of employment, declined again in March and has declined by about one percent in the past three months, a pattern often associated with economic slowdowns,” he said.
“Second, manufacturing employment is down versus two months ago, the first time that has happened since the 2015-16 manufacturing recession,” Levanon said. “In addition, average weekly hours in manufacturing is clearly on a negative trend, raising additional concerns about another manufacturing recession.”
Wage gains fell off the recent strong pace, increasing just 0.14 percent in March and 3.2 percent year over year, the Bureau said.
The average work week increased by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours.
While the 3.8 percent figure for the unemployment rate will be the figure most quoted in the media, it’s instructive to look at other measures the bureau relies on when gauging job market activity.
The figure we all know is, in technical terms, called the U-3 rate. It is defined as “total unemployment as a percent of the civilian labor force.”
The actual scale, as depicted on the bureau’s “alternative measures of labor underutilization” page, runs from U-1 to U-6, with the U-6 measure encompassing the “total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.”
Yes, that’s a bureaucratic mouthful. Essentially, it’s a measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers who are currently opting out of looking for a job, as well as those holding part-time jobs and have yet to find full-time work.
For the month of March, the U-6 unemployment rate held steady at 7.3 percent, the same number as February, but well below January’s 8.1 percent.
“Overall, the US economy is still adding jobs at a solid pace, but job growth is likely to slow down in the coming months,” The Conference Board’s Levanon said. “Given the stagnation in the working-age population, even this more modest job growth is still likely to continue to tighten the labor market, beyond the very low 3.8 percent unemployment rate.”
Economists are now forecasting the U.S. economy will expand roughly 2 percent to 2.5 percent this year, down from 2.9 percent last year.
In The News
The Federal Reserve left interest rates near zero and signaled it would hold them there through at least 2023 to help the U.S. economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Open Market Committee “expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy” until it achieves... Read More
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday headed a call from her members to commit to keeping the House in session until there’s a coronavirus relief deal, but the vow does little to break the stalemate in bipartisan negotiations that is at the heart of Democrats’... Read More
WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of 50 centrist lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a $1.5 trillion proposal they hope will end the current stalemate over new relief to bolster the coronavirus battered economy. The Problem Solvers Caucus, led by co-chairs Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Reed,... Read More
President Donald Trump spent more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds, rolled back environmental rules and tried to stop power plant closings to fulfill a vow he made to West Virginia coal miners in the 2016 campaign. But nothing he’s done is rescuing the coal industry.... Read More
WASHINGTON — The congressional stalemate over a new coronavirus relief package grew further entrenched Thursday as Senate Democrats blocked a slimmed-down Republican proposal that they deemed “emaciated” because it did not include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans, assistance for state governments and other... Read More
Applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits failed to decline as expected last week, a sign extensive job losses are persisting as the nation continues to struggle to control the coronavirus. Initial jobless claims in regular state programs were unchanged at 884,000 in the week ended Sept.... Read More