Economy Added 216,000 New Workers in March, Unemployment Rate Drops Slightly

Apr 1, 2011 8:57am

ABC's Dan Arnall reports:

There’s no April fooling – the American recovery is underway. According to new government data out this morning, there is a slow but steady stroll toward new jobs.
The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the U.S. added some 216,000 new positions in March.
With today’s figures added in the country has seen some 1.3 million jobs added in the past year.

We saw hiring in many sectors – manufacturing, hospitality, retail, temp services and health care.

The report bested economist expectations (+185K). Upward revisions to both January and February’s results added another 7K to the previous totals.

When one looks only at the private sector – factoring out gov’t hiring and firing – we’re seeing a lovely trend, with some 1.6 million positions added in the past year. That almost unbroken upward climb you can see in the private sector chart to the left is what you want to see.

The nation’s unemployment rate – the result of a separate but simultaneously released survey of households – was down by a tick to 8.8%. That “rate” translates into some 13.5 million Americans wanted to work last month but were unable to find any.

That kinds of move is statistically insignificant, but we’ve come a long way, baby. Since November 2010 the unemployment rate has dropped by an astounding 1%.

That kind of quick five-month move is a clear bit of proof that the U.S. is starting to see the benefits of the recovery.

The unexpected drop in the unemployment rate is confounding many folks, who didn’t think we’d see such a decisive move.

There is some speculation that the survey of households (from which we get the unemployment rate) is better at capturing hiring from small and new businesses than the establishment survey. That might be a good explanation for the almost unprecedented drop.

The broader unemployment rate, which includes people who took part-time work when they wanted full-time or were just not looking because they didn’t believe there was a job out there stands at 15.7% (or 24 million). That’s actually pretty good as this measure – called the U-6 – was at 17% a year ago.

Notoriously negative economist Peter Morici even found a bit of sunshine in the March Jobs report, noting, “The Labor Department reported the economy added 216,000 jobs in March. After adding 194,000 jobs in February, this indicates the economy is finally accomplishing momentum. First quarter growth will likely be a bit higher than 3 percent.” This is a fellow who has been decidedly dour on the recovery for years now.

While there is good news here, there are lots of people who are looking for potential stumbling blocks to the recovery – high gas prices and the economic hit Japan is suffering are two of the most obvious.

The March Jobs report offers some solace there, according to Nigel Gault, chief economist at ISH Global Insight.

“The bottom line is that the labor market evidence suggests that the economy had good momentum that will allow it to absorb the twin shocks from the Middle East and Japan without too much damage to growth – which should still come in close to 3% for 2011.”

A bit of perspective here – the smartest minds at the Federal Reserve are forecasting that we won’t be at the 5-6% unemployment rate again for at least 3 years, and even with today’s good numbers, that forecast is unlikely to change.

During the month, hiring was broadly spread throughout most of the private sector. Here’s where the hiring and firing was happening during March:

•  Manufacturers (+17K) were hiring again in March. Lots of speculation that the Japan events might help bolster American manufacturing in the coming months.
•  Construction firms (-1K) were essentially not hiring or firing in March.
•  Leisure & Hospitality (+37K) was booming as consumers took the family out to eat – a first step into the spend as consumer confidence starts to eke out of its recession lows. Restaurants and bars added workers (+26.5K) like crazy last month
•  Retail (+17.7K) employment was up during March. Digging in you can Americans getting ready for spring cleaning/planting at building and garden stores (+7.8K) and general merchandisers (+7K).
•  The transportation sector (-0.1K) was unchanged in March.
•  Financial firms (+6K) saw a slight bump in March. There was an uptick in hiring in the Real Estate (+9.5K) subsector as the volume of renting/leasing has increased.
•  Health care (+36.6K) continued to add workers, significantly better than the average month (+24K) from the past year.
•  Temp positions (+28.8K) continued to add workers – this is a “canary” in the jobs coal mine as firms often add temp workers before adding full-time staff.
•  Tax season has been busier than usual this year with Accounting/Bookkeeping services (+20.2K) adding workers in March
•  The Federal government (+1.0K) was unchanged and state governments, too (+0K). City governments (-15K) were in cutting mode in March and probably will be for the next year, at least.

This post has been updated.

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