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88,000 New Jobs in March Is Weakest Growth in Nine Months

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Job growth appeared to slow drastically during March, as employers added 88,000 new jobs, down from 268,000 in February. The unemployment rate went down a tick, from 7.7 percent to 7.6, but that was due to a reduction in the labor force.

A survey of 87 economists by Bloomberg News predicted 190,000 new jobs, and the stock market took a huge hit Friday morning as a result of the grim news. The drop in the unemployment rate may appear positive at first glance, but it only went down because more people stopped looking for work, not that unemployed persons had actually found work. All around, it was not a good report.

This is the third straight year that job growth has stalled this time of year, leading commentators to call it the “spring swoon.” The overall labor force participation rate fell to 63.3 percent, its lowest level since 1979. The long-term unemployed, meaning those who have been looking for work for six months or more, remained steady at about 4.6 million people.

If there was a silver lining in this report, it’s in the housing sector. As the real-estate market continues to improve, that has led to an increase in construction jobs, which grew by 18,000 in March.

Last, the 88,000 number will almost certainly be revised next month, upward or downward, and then again in June. The original February jobs report, for example, said the economy added 236,000 but was revised upward this month by 32,000.

The underlying and longer-term trends in the economy don’t seem to have changed that much. The economy is still recovering from the recession that ended in 2009, but it is doing so slowly and in fits and starts. The job market reflects that, with some months of very solid growth and then some like March.

[Labor Dept., N.Y. TimesBloomberg]

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