March Jobs Gains Much Weaker Than Expected

Unemployment rate holds steady at 5.5 percent

By Roy Maurer Apr 3, 2015

U.S. employers added 126,000 jobs in March 2015, ending 12 straight months of job gains above 200,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The month’s disappointing numbers are the smallest gain since December 2013.

“While employment increased and continues to trend up in certain sectors, the number of added jobs was lower than expected making this report fairly disappointing overall,” said Jennifer Schramm, SHRM-SCP, manager of workforce trends at the Society for Human Resource Management.

The March numbers are below 150,000, which is widely considered the number of new jobs needed per month to keep up with population growth, Schramm explained. “This is the first time in a while that we’ve seen the jobs numbers dip below this threshold.”

Another discouraging sign was the major downward revisions in job growth estimates for January and February 2015, she said. “Until this month’s report the BLS had said that there was an average of 269,000 new jobs per month in the previous 12 months. But when you factor in these downward revisions, the average for the last three months has been 197,000.”

Employment continued to trend up in professional and business services (+40,000), health care (+22,000), especially ambulatory health care services and hospitals, and retail (+26,000).

Employment in mining declined by 11,000 in March and the industry has lost 30,000 jobs in the first three months of the year, after adding 41,000 jobs in all of 2014. The employment declines are related to the diminishing need for support for oil and gas extraction, due to falling crude prices.

Employment in other major industries, including construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, food services and government, showed little change.

Average hourly earnings rose by 7 cents to $24.86. Average hourly earnings have risen by 2.1 percent over the last 12 months. Recent announcements of pay increases for hourly workers at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s could spur traction in wage growth as the year unfolds.

“Now the question is what these numbers mean and if this loss of hiring momentum will continue,” said Schramm. “The focus has recently been on whether higher employment levels could eventually drive up wages. So a slowdown will certainly impact this. Deceleration in job growth will also have the Federal Reserve considering whether to hold off on raising interest rates.”

Unemployment Steady

The unemployment rate remained at 5.5 percent, the lowest rate since May 2008.

Currently 8.6 million people are defined as unemployed, a slight improvement from February 2015 (8.7 million) and 1.8 million less than reported in March 2014.

The unemployment rate for various demographic groups—adult men (5.1 percent), adult women (4.9 percent), whites (4.7 percent), blacks (10.1 percent), Asians (3.2 percent), Hispanics (6.8 percent) and teenagers (17.5 percent), showed little or no change.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) fell slightly to 2.6 million. The long-term unemployed account for 29.8 percent of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 1.1 million.

The labor force participation rate changed ticked down to 62.7 percent from 62.8 percent and has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 to 62.9 percent since April 2014. The figure is near the lowest level since the late 1970s.

Individuals categorized as involuntary part-time workers—those seeking full-time employment, but working part time—rose from 6.6 million to 6.7 million. Additionally, 2.1 million people were considered marginally attached to the labor force—unemployed, wanting and available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. Among this group, 738,000 individuals were considered discouraged—not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

The remaining 1.3 million people marginally attached to the labor force in March had not searched for work in the past month for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities, according to BLS.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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