The Employment Situation in March

The economy continued to add jobs in March at a pace consistent with job growth over the past year. Additionally, the unemployment rate was steady while the labor force participation rate edged up. While today’s data indicates that the recovery is continuing to unfold, the President still believes further steps must be taken to strengthen growth and boost job creation. In this regard, the Senate’s decision yesterday to move forward with the consideration of a bill to reinstate extended unemployment insurance was an important step in the right direction. In addition to encouraging this and other action in Congress, such as raising the minimum wage and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, the President will continue to act on his own executive authority wherever possible to expand economic opportunity for American families.    

 FIVE KEY POINTS IN TODAY’S REPORT FROM THE BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS

1. The private sector has added 8.9 million jobs over 49 straight months of job growth. Today we learned that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 192,000 in March, entirely due to an increase in private employment, while government employment was unchanged on net. Job growth in January and February was revised up, so that that over the past twelve months, private employment has risen by 2.3 million, or an average of 189,000 a month. This is slightly faster than the pace of job gains over the preceding twelve-month period (175,000 a month).

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2. Revisions to jobs numbers tend to be cyclical (negative in a recession, positive in a recovery); consistent with this pattern, the initial estimate of job growth has been revised up in 18 of the last 19 months, and in 40 of the 56 months since the end of the recession in June 2009. One of the main reasons that jobs numbers are subject to revision is that, at the time of the first report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is missing data from firms that have not responded to the survey, as well as data on business start-ups and closures. BLS uses a model to estimate missing data, but these model-based estimates are backward-looking so that they understate both the declines in a recession and the gains in a recovery. Over time, the BLS is able to replace initial survey reports and model-based estimates with more comprehensive data drawn from administrative records. With today’s report, job growth in January and February has been revised up by a combined 53,000 relative to their respective first reports. Since June 2009, the latest data are an average of 31,000 a month higher than the first report, indicating that the recovery has been stronger than initially estimated. However, during the recession from December 2007 to June 2009, first reports of monthly job growth were revised down by an average of 115,000 a month, meaning that the recession was deeper than originally estimated.

 

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3. In thinking about how to address the persistent challenge of long-term unemployment, it is important to recognize that the long-term unemployed are a demographically diverse group and broadly similar to the shorter-term unemployed. As shown below, long-term unemployment does not appear to be overly concentrated in a single occupation. This suggests that steps to support the long-term unemployed in their job search activities and ensure they are given a fair look by employers still have a critical role to play in helping to address this pressing issue. 

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4. The average workweek in the manufacturing sector rebounded to 42.0 hours in March, tied for the highest since July 1945. Average weekly hours for manufacturing production and nonsupervisory workers also hit 42.0 hours in November 2013, before edging down in December, January, and February. Some of the decline in those months was likely due to unusually severe winter weather, including the major snowstorm that hit during the survey week in February. Consistent with the unwinding of weather effects, the average workweek in manufacturing jumped in March and returned to its 68-year high.

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5. Employment gains in most industries in March were consistent with their range of monthly changes over the last several years. The construction sector had an above-average month, adding 19,000 jobs for a total of 88,000 over the last three months. In addition, state and local government performed relatively well, adding 9,000 jobs in March. Manufacturing employment was little changed, but with upward revisions to previous months, this sector has risen by 97,000 on net since last July.

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As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and payroll employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available.

 

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