Is the Labor Market Picking Up? Mixed Results from March Job’s Report

Today’s jobs report showed the unemployment rate falling to 8.2% for March – down slightly from 8.3% in February; however, it also showed signs of a slower hiring rate – leaving many with either mixed feelings of optimism or cause for ongoing concern. According to the Labor Department, employers added only 120,000 jobs in March, well below February’s high of 240,000. Compare this to an average of 246,000 job gains for the prior 3 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and hiring appears to have stagnated.

Warm weather in February may have impacted the gains made in February, with companies that work outdoors, including construction, hiring workers ahead of schedule. On a more positive note, since August the unemployment rate has dropped from a high of 9.1 percent to 8.2 percent, the lowest level in three years. Meanwhile Americans who have been seeking unemployment benefits also fell last week to a four-year low, according to the government, and the pace of layoffs continues to decline. Consumer spending has also continued to increase over the past several months. On the jobs front, the retail sector showed the largest decline, loosing more than 34,000 jobs, attributed mostly to department stores. While manufacturing (37,000), leisure and hospitality – specifically food services and drinking – rose by 37,000, according to the BLS.

Healthcare also continues to show gains, adding 26,000 in March. Employment in the financial sector (15,000) was also up, as well as professional and business services, adding 31,000 jobs). Government jobs, which were showing the highest decline has begun to slow down, with cuts of only 1,000 jobs in March. Less-skilled, lower-wage jobs continue to gain, while jobs for more skilled workers show a growing number of being unfilled. Currently, 12.7 Americans still remain unemployed, and of those, 42.5% have been unemployed for six months or longer. Among adults, women and men still show the lowest rates of unemployment (7.6 and 7.3 percent, respectively), along with Asians (6.2 percent). Minority groups, including blacks (14.0 percent) and Hispanics (10.3 percent) still show higher rates of unemployment, although little or no change from the previous month. Teenagers average the highest unemployment, coming in at 25 percent in March.

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