The national economy added 916,000 jobs in March, with big gains in restaurant, bar and tourism, construction and government jobs and strong gains in almost all other sectors, sending the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, the lowest rate in a year: the rate was 4.4 percent and rising 12 months ago as the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping in.
The number of people with jobs had reached a record 158.7 million in December 2019, before falling slightly in the subsequent months and falling drastically in April 2020. In March, the number was back up to 150.8 million, or 7.9 million short of the December record. The February unemployment rate in Flagler County was 4.5 percent, and 4.7 percent in Florida.
In the nation, leisure and tourism jobs increased by 280,000, led by restaurants and bars, which added 176,000, though the sector is still 3.1 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020. The big jump in government jobs is attributed to the return to school of public education faculty and staff, with gains of 126,000 jobs in local and state education sectors, and another 64,000 in private education. Construction added 110,000 jobs, reversing a loss of 56,000 in February. Construction employment is still is 182,000 short of its February level.
Professional and business services added 66,000 jobs, manufacturing added 53,000, social assistance added 25,000 and retail added 23,000. Retail employment is still 381,000 below its February 2020 level. Average hourly earnings, which had risen as the workforce shrank, fell 4 cents in March to $29.96.
With upward revisions to previous months’ tallies, the economy has added 1.6 million jobs in the first three months of the year, signaling an accelerating job market, though the virus, which knocked a winter recovery off course, may yet prove risky: cases have been surging again in the nation since March 20, and in Florida on Thursday, the state recorded nearly 6,800 cases, the highest single-day spike since March 2, with a seven-day average above 5,000 in daily cases. But infections are affecting younger people, and the rapid spread of vaccinations is expected to blunt any repeat of the winter’s covid surge.
Despite the last months’ gains, millions of workers remain involuntarily on the sidelines. There are almost 7 million people who have left the labor force but who want a job–and aren’t even counted among the unemployed, which deceptively lowers the official unemployment rate. Among them, 3.7 million were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, down from 4.2 million the month before. (To be counted as unemployed, individuals must be either actively looking for work or on temporary layoff. In Florida, the requirements are significantly more extensive, requiring individuals to contact at least five prospective employers every week they’re receiving benefits or report to employment centers and take part in “reemployment services,” among other steps.)
There are also 5.8 million people who are working part-time only because their full-time hours have been cut back, or because they could not find full-time work. They’re called the involuntary part-time workers, or the under-employed. Their ranks are 1.4 million higher than in February 2020.
When discouraged workers and involuntary part-time workers are counted, the alternative measure of unemployment and underemployment puts the rate at 10.7 percent, almost two points higher than a year ago. In Florida, the rate was 14.3 percent when the Bureau of Labor Statistics last calculated it.
In March, 21 percent of the economy’s 150.8 million workers with jobs teleworked at some point in the previous four weeks because of the pandemic, down from 22.7 percent in February