March Job Growth: Not Too Bad, But Not as Good as Expected

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Apr 4, 2014

Editor’s note: Weekly Wrap  is taking a week off. It will return next Friday.

U.S. job growth in March was somewhat lower than predicted as employers added 192,000 jobs during the month.

The unemployment rate remained at 6.7 percent due largely to the half-million workers who rejoined the labor force.

The March report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also upped the initial numbers for January and February, adding 37,000 more jobs. With the revisions, monthly job growth during the first quarter of the year averaged 177,700 new jobs versus 206,000 for the first quarter last year.

A growing sense of optimism

Analysts were expecting a March gain of about 200,000 jobs, but the various surveys of economists showed a wide range of individual estimates. (The business news services survey analysts prior to the release of the monthly government report, and then average their estimate to produce a consensus result.)

How much of the decline in job growth from last year is due to the unusually bad weather is a subject of debate among economists.

Among workers, however, there’s a sense of growing optimism, demonstrated both in the inflow of workers to the labor force and improvement in The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, which stands at 82.3, up from 78.3 and well above the 61.9 in March of last year.

Of the additional half-million Americans who looked for work last month, only a tiny fraction — about 27,000 — failed to find a job.

Workers added in most labor sectors

The labor report showed most sectors of the economy added workers. Staffing agencies added 28,500 workers, continuing the strong growth the temp sector has shown for the past few years. Restaurants and bars also grew strongly, adding 30,400 employees. Retailers, too, added workers, growing payrolls by 21,300, with food and beverage stores adding 9,000 new jobs.

Construction jobs increased by 19,000, for a net gain of 37,000 since January. The broad manufacturing sector lost 1,000 jobs, but that was due to a decline in the non-durable goods area, with the food manufacturing industry dropping 4,600 jobs. Durable goods manufacturers — those who make such things as machinery, office equipment, appliances, and cars and trucks — added 8,000 workers.

Overall, the report is considered a mixed bag by economists, who mostly see it as confirmation that the economy is continuing to improve, but slowly.

Millan L. Mulraine, deputy head, U.S. research & strategy, TD Securities USA, summed up the reaction of analysts when he wrote in an analyst note,  He said:

The main takeaway from this report is that the labor market is continuing to bounce out of the weather-induced slump of earlier this year, and while the pace of rebound remains slower than we expected, we take encouragement from the strong showing in almost every other aspect of this report.”