The good news is that the March unemployment rate of 7.6 percent is the lowest in almost four and a half years: the last time it was lower was December 2008, when it was 7.3 percent and rising fast. Job-creation numbers for January and February were revised upward, adding 61,000 jobs, for a total of 416,000 for those two months. The bad news is that in March, the economy added only 88,000, pointing to a worrisome slowdown caused by too much austerity at home and too many economies falling into recession abroad, particularly in Europe.
The Labor Department reports that 11.7 million people are still unemployed, but that figure does not reflect the number of people who have dropped out of the workforce, or those who are working part-time because they can’t find full-time work.
However, that alternative unemployment figure–the so-called U-6 measure–had its best showing in March, and its sharpest month-over-month drop in a year, dropping to 13.8 percent, from 14.3 percent the month before. The 13.8 percent rate is also the lowest since December 2008. The reason: the number of people employed part-time for economic rather than voluntary reasons fell by a significant 350,000, to 7.6 million.
Again, the relatively good news is clouded by bad news: The civilian labor force actually declined by 496,000 over the month, and the labor force participation rate decreased by 0.2 percentage points, to 63.3 percent. That, far more than job creation, is what led to the decrease in the unemployment rate. Overall, the economy has been adding on average 169,000 jobs a month for the past year, barely enough to keep up with the natural growth rate in the labor force.
Some highlights from the March report:
Professional and business services added 51,000 jobs in March, for a total of 533,000 in the past year. Health care, a constant in job growth figures, added 23,000 jobs, matching its monthly average for the past 12 months. Construction employment continued to trend up in March (+18,000). Trade contractors added 23,000 jobs, with gains evenly split between residential and non-residential construction. Leisure and hospitality also added jobs, with 13,000 gained in bars and food services.
On the negative side, retail (a big winner in Florida in February) lost 24,000 jobs in March, though the industry has added an average of 32,000 a month in the past year. Within the retail industry, job declines occurred in clothing and clothing accessories stores (-15,000), building material and garden supply stores (-10,000), and electronics and appliance stores (-6,000). Within government, also a big jobs loser for several years running, U.S. Postal Service employment fell by 12,000 in March. Employment in other major industries, including mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, state government, and local government, showed little change over the month.
The average workweek for all employees on private payrolls increased by 0.1 hour to 34.6 hours. The manufacturing workweek decreased by 0.1 hour to 40.8 hours, and factory overtime rose by 0.1 hour to 3.4 hours. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private payrolls, at $23.82, changed little (+1 cent). Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 42 cents, or 1.8 percent, which is below the rate of inflation and well below a rate that would give workers a sense of getting ahead, or enhancing their standard of living.