May 26, 2019

Weak Jobs Report Clouds the Economic Picture

The shutdown also postponed hiring both within the government and in the private sector, in part because the federal electronic service that verifies the employment eligibility of prospective workers — E-Verify — was not operating. Some of those hires, particularly in the public sector, may still be in the pipeline. Government payrolls — federal, state and local — were down by 5,000.

Delays in income-tax refunds may also have had an impact, if people held off with discretionary purchases, Ms. Swonk said. The leisure and hospitality showed no growth.

Some of the layoffs that big retailers have announced may be starting to trickle through as well, with a drop of 6,100 in the retail sector.

There have been several instances over the course of this expansion when average monthly job gains fell below 100,000. In September 2017, for example, employers added just 18,000 jobs, but the monthly average for the year still reached 179,000. In 2016, the monthly average was 193,000 despite a January reading of 90,000.

“I’ve been in this business over 40 years, and February always presents kind of a pause,” said William H. Stoller, chairman and chief executive of Express Employment Professionals, which is based in Oklahoma City. He compared it to taking a breath during a marathon, before a second wind kicks in. “I don’t see it hitting the wall at all at this point,” he said.

Outside of the government’s report, signs of employer confidence were still evident. Bill Ravenscroft, a senior vice president at the staffing firm Adecco, pointed to the growing willingness to convert temporary workers into full-time staff members. The high rate of conversion shows there is little concern that layoffs will be needed down the road, he said.

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