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Job Growth Surges in March; Unemployment Stays Put

Payrolls continued to expand steadily in March, though a close look at the numbers suggests a slightly cooler picture than the headline statistics depict.

The Department of Labor reported 192,000 new jobs in March, down slightly from February’s revised job growth of 197,000 (from 175,000 originally reported). January’s employment growth was also revised, receiving a bump up to 144,000 from 129,000 reported last month.

Despite last month’s apparent strength, the overall unemployment rate stubbornly stayed at 6.7 percent, unchanged from February (which was a slight step up from January’s 6.6 percent).

What’s more, the seasonally adjusted U-6 stat, which includes all unemployed people as well as everyone “marginally attached” to the labor force and those employed part-time for economic reasons, notched up slightly to 12.7 percent from 12.6 percent previously.

Perhaps more encouragingly, the number of long-term unemployed (people jobless for 27 weeks or longer) inched down slightly to 3.7 million—though, at 35.8 percent, the share of long-term unemployed remained high.

Among other major indicators, news was mixed: The average workweek increased slightly to 34.5 hours, offsetting a net decline over the prior months and giving weight to arguments that recent declines were a temporary effect of the weather. In an interview before the government’s numbers were released, Moody’s Analytics director Ryan Sweet said the spring thaw should help boost hours.

“We should get a bounce-back in March and also possibly into April,” Sweet said, adding: “A longer workweek bodes well for future hiring.”

Meanwhile, average hourly earnings—another stat Sweet said he’s keeping an eye on—edged down a cent to $24.30.

“During this recovery, the relationship between wage growth and consumer spending has been very, very tight,” he said. “In other words, consumers are spending only what they have in their pockets.”

With income still struggling compared to other economic figures, Sweet says consumers have been reluctant to lean on credit for purchases, hampering spending.

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