The economy added 192,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said Friday, slightly below economists’ forecast of 200,000 new jobs and under February’s revised total of 197,000. Employers added a combined 37,000 more jobs in January and February than previously estimated.
The March unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent, or 10.5 million, but at least a half-million Americans started looking for work last month, most of them finding relatively low paying positions. The number of people who are involuntary employed, part-time workers was little changed at 7.4 million in March, unable to work full time because their employers have scaled back on hours. Food services and drinking places logged in 30,000 jobs, making a whole 323,000 of the total for the year.
However, the increase in job-seekers is a sign that if Americans are optimistic about their prospects, then they will still seek a job in big numbers.
March’s job gain nearly matched last year’s average monthly total, suggesting that the economy will not likely average the 250,000 jobs monthly need to keep pace with current population growth.
Stock markets reacted favorably to the news. The broad S&P 500 index rose 0.36 percent to 1,895.59, while the Dow Jones Industrial average rose 0.23 percent to 16,610.96. The Nasdaq Composite rose 0.12 percent to 4242.98.
However, more than six years after the Great Recession, private employers have finally recovered all the jobs lost to the recession. The employers shed 8.8 million jobs in the downturn; they’ve since hired 8.9 million. Still, because the population has grown over that time, it is little cause for celebration. The lost economic growth in what is the recovery that never was has left the unemployment rate elevated, where it will likely remain without the BLS playing numbers games.
The proportion of Americans in the labor force — those either working or seeking work — has ticked up this year after steady declines since June of 2009. The labor force increased by 1.5 million in the January-March quarter after shrinking by 500,000 last year. The labor force for the majority of Barack Obama’s tenure has been at or even below that of Jimmy Carter’s tenure, over 30 years ago.
The labor force participation rate was 63.2 percent and the employment-population ratio was 58.9 percent, both numbers are nothing to get excited about and nearly the same as in February. The number of people employed part-time for economic reasons was also little changed at 7.4 million in March, according to the Labor Department.
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) came in at 3.7 million, which changed little in March. Unfortunately, these individuals accounted for 35.8 percent of the unemployed.
Americans worked an average of 34.5 hours last month, up from 34.3 in February, but the increase, though small, means many Americans received larger weekly paychecks.
Yet, because of a variety of regulations holding down employers’ options, average hourly pay slipped a penny to $24.30 after a big 10-cent gain in February. The trend has been, in total, negative since the recession. These numbers were a big disappointment for many economists, who thought February’s larger-than-normal increase might signal the start of a trend.
Average hourly wages have risen 2.1 percent in the past year, but inflation has risen 1.1 percent in that time, eating much of Americans’ purchasing power.
Hiring averaged 178,000 in the first three months of this year, down from 198,000 a month in the final three months of 2013. But many economists forecast that hiring will average roughly 200,000 jobs a month for the rest of the year, which is still below the 250,000 needed to satisfy population increases and demand. Hiring at that pace may still lower the unemployment rate, however.
Many economists think growth slowed to a 1.5 percent to 2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, down from a 2.6 percent pace in last year’s fourth quarter. But most also forecast that steady hiring and less drag from government spending cuts should lift growth to nearly a 3 percent annual pace for the rest of the year.