March hiring rose half the pace of December-February
WASHINGTON — The U.S. job market took a breather in March after its best hiring stretch since the Great Recession.
Employers added 120,000 jobs last month — half the December-February pace and well short of the 210,000 economists were expecting. The unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent, the lowest since January 2009, but that was largely because many Americans stopped looking for work.
Still, few economists expect hiring to fizzle in spring and summer, as it did the past two years. And they blamed seasonal factors for much of Friday’s disappointing report from the Labor Department.
“We don’t think this is the start of another spring dip in labor market conditions,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics.
The report was also closely watched in political circles. If employers retreat on hiring, consumers could lose confidence in the economy and potentially dim President Barack Obama’s re-election hopes.
Ashworth and other economists cited the weather for the latest jobs report. A warm January and February allowed companies to hire workers for outdoor jobs a few weeks earlier than usual, effectively stealing jobs from March. It partially explains a 34,000-job drop in retail hiring and a 7,000 drop in construction jobs.
“Our winter didn’t really exist,” said Alan Amdahl, who runs his own construction company in Sioux Falls, S.D. “It’s just incredible. People didn’t hibernate.”
Economists also say the numbers can bounce around from month to month. Consistently creating 200,000 jobs a month is tough. The economy hasn’t put together four straight months of 200,000 or more new jobs since early 2000.
Economists are still encouraged by the recent hiring trend: The economy has generated an average 212,000 jobs a month from January through March.
Anthony Chan, chief economist at JP Morgan Wealth Management, noted strong growth among businesses that are especially sensitive to the economy’s health. Hotels and restaurants hired 39,000 workers. Manufacturers added 37,000.
The factory hiring is especially welcome. Expanding factories create more jobs at the mines that produce raw materials, in warehouses and at trucking companies and at utilities that generate power.
Government jobs, which declined by an average 22,000 a month last year, fell just 1,000 in March. An improving economy is generating tax revenue and easing budget problems at city halls and statehouses across the country.
The March slowdown brings back painful memories of what happened in mid-2010 and 2011, when the economy lost momentum and job growth sputtered.
The unemployment rate has dropped from 9.1 percent last August to 8.2 percent last month, the lowest since Obama’s first month in the White House.