December 8, 2023

U.S. Economy Added 216,000 Jobs in March; Rate at 8.8%

Turmoil is found in many corners of the global economy, and oil prices have been rising, so economists waited to see if these storms would affect hiring. The answer, so far, appears to be no. The gain in jobs slightly exceeded economists’ expectations.

Manufacturing continued what a few years ago would have been considered an unlikely — if still modest — revival, adding 17,000 jobs. Health care added 37,000 jobs, and professional and business services added another 78,000, although about 37 percent of that came from increases in temporary help. It was the 13th straight month of private-sector job growth.

March’s numbers, however, also offered cautionary signs that the nation’s economic ills are not entirely behind it. The number of long-term unemployed — that is, those jobless for 27 weeks or more — remained painfully high, at more than six million. That is the highest number in a generation.

The small size of the national labor force remains a pressing concern, reflecting discouragement with the prospects for employment. It has shrunk steadily over the past few years, to a point that just 64.2 percent of adults are either in the work force or looking for a job. That is the lowest labor participation rate in a quarter-century. Many economists had forecast that as Americans grew emboldened by signs of new hiring, they would re-enter the work force in greater numbers. That did not happen in March, as the participation rate was unchanged.

The average workweek was also unchanged, at 34.3 hours, and average hourly earnings remained the same. Both are signs of an economy with much slack demand and little upward pressure on wages. In other words, it is the sign of an economy not yet firing on all cylinders. “With excess supply of labor at very high levels, it is unlikely that we are going to see any meaningful acceleration in wage rates anytime soon,” Joshua Shapiro, an economist at MFR Inc., said Friday morning.

State and local governments offer their own slough of despond. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008, and shed another 15,000 jobs in March.

As well, the unemployment rate for blacks and Latinos remained high, at 15.5 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively.

Quite a few signs, of late, have pointed to a touch of momentum in the economic recovery. Weekly unemployment claims have declined steadily, from the mid-400,000s to the neighborhood of 388,000 last week. In most historical contexts, the latter would be a grim number so many months after the official end of the recession. But in this slowest and most sluggish of recoveries, it points to fewer layoffs, and more hiring.

Economists are looking for more Americans, like those who have given up looking or who have taken part-time jobs for lack of full-time employment, to find signs of hope.

“I suspect that the workers on the sideline will start coming back in,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

The larger question is what the medium-term future augurs, and this month’s report appears to offer less than a definitive answer. Will jobs continue to expand through the spring, and with enough vigor — 300,000 a month, say — to substantially reduce the unemployment rate?

As Ms. Shierholz notes, if the economy adds 200,000 jobs a month, it will be 2019 before it reaches the employment rate that preceded the Great Recession. (Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has shed more than seven million jobs).

For President Obama, any uptick in employment numbers will offer a welcome ray of sunshine. The Democrats’ big losses in last November’s election were in large part because of the weak economy, and as eyes now turn to 2012, the economy again figures to sit at center stage. And his economists are certain to lay claims to the green shoots spotted in the March report.

  Many economists speak optimistically of the spring, but the outlook grows uncertain after that. The international storm clouds are many — spectacular debt problems in Europe, uprisings sweeping the oil-rich Middle East, and Japan and its many maladies. And then there is the possibility of a government shutdown in Washington, as the Republican-controlled House challenges the White House.

Some of the problems arising from these storms, such as higher oil prices, could take a while to work through the economy and, possibly, to erode consumer confidence.

“The first half of this year will be the best job market that we’ll see in this whole expansion,” said David Levy of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center. “We’re riding the crest of earnings. But after that, and looking toward 2012, the situation is very questionable.”


Article source:

Speak Your Mind