Hiring slows, but U.S. unemployment falls to 10-year low


Highlights

In the past three months, employers have added an average of 178,000 jobs a month.

The number of Americans who are working part time but would prefer a full-time job fell.

U.S. employers cut back sharply on hiring in March, yet Friday’s jobs report still had much to be encouraged about, including a drop in the unemployment rate to 4.5 percent, the lowest in a decade.

Employers added just 98,000 jobs, the Labor Department said. It was barely half the previous month’s gain.

Yet unemployment dropped from 4.7 percent, reaching its lowest point since May 2007. While the rate has fallen in the past because of unemployed workers who had given up looking, it happened this time because of a healthy gain in the number of people with jobs.

“Within the disappointing 98,000 net new jobs added, there seems to be a lot more going on beneath the surface, and what is going beneath the surface is mostly good,” said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo.

Here are the positive aspects of the report, followed by some parts that were not so hot:

Job growth still OK: In the past three months, employers have added an average of 178,000 jobs a month. That’s much better than March’s increase and is closer to the underlying trend, economists said.

That’s also just below the average gains of 187,000 jobs a month last year. Hiring should rebound closer to that level in the coming months, economists say.

Hit from weather probably temporary: One reason last month’s weak gain was probably a blip is that harsh winter weather in New England and the Midwest most likely hurt hiring in construction, retail and other weather-sensitive industries. Also, construction companies reported huge job gains in January and February, when the weather was unseasonably warm, so they didn’t need to engage in their usual spring hiring.

Better jobs: The job gains last month, while tepid, occurred in better-paying industries, such as manufacturing and a category that includes accounting, engineering and other professional services.

Lower-paying fields, such as retail, cut jobs, while a category that includes restaurants and hotels posted a small gain.

And all the new jobs added were full time, the government said. The number of Americans who are working part time but would prefer a full-time job fell.

An alternative unemployment measure, which includes involuntary part-time workers, fell to 8.9 percent, its lowest level since December 2007, when the Great Recession started.

That’s down from a peak in 2010 of 17.1 percent.

Yet there were some discouraging signs:

More optimism, same economy: Consumer and business optimism has soared since the presidential election. Many companies eagerly await the tax cuts and deregulation promised by President Donald Trump.

Yet so far, there is little evidence that better sentiment has translated into more hiring, spending or economic growth. Companies are adding workers at the same pace they did last year. And consumers trimmed their inflation-adjusted spending in January and February.

Stagnant wages: Average hourly earnings climbed 2.7 percent over the past year, not much of a win for workers. And after factoring in inflation in the past year, paychecks are essentially flat.

“Right now, real wages are basically stagnant,” said Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management. “That’s why things like retail sales growth and other indicators for consumer demand have been so anemic.”

The situation is even tougher for front-line workers, who account for the majority of all jobs. Their wages have risen just 2.3 percent, so after inflation they have fallen.

Hiring not widely spread: The drop in the unemployment rate is good news, but it doesn’t mean everyone has benefited. Women made up nearly all those who gained jobs, with the unemployment rate for adult men unchanged, at a still-low 4.3 percent.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Business

Medicine from Texas cannabis crops on cusp of getting to patients
Medicine from Texas cannabis crops on cusp of getting to patients

Pediatric neurologist Scott Perry is optimistic he’ll soon be able to answer some questions that have been on the minds of his epilepsy patients and their families. “I don’t think I go a day without the majority of patients actually asking about it,” Perry said. “If I don’t mention it myself, they’ll say, &lsquo...
SPACE CRUNCH: Retail market remains tight across region
SPACE CRUNCH: Retail market remains tight across region

A lot can change in a decade. Take the local commercial real estate market. Ten years ago, the very first phase of the Domain in North Austin was just getting off the ground. So was the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave. And Ikea had just opened its doors in Round Rock. Thanks to those developments – and countless more since – the Austin...
Austin-area home sales, prices hit record highs in 2017
Austin-area home sales, prices hit record highs in 2017

Last year was another record-breaker for Central Texas’ housing market, the newest numbers show. And some local real estate agents and housing market experts predict 2018 will look a lot like 2017, with the market staying strong yet concerns about affordability lingering as prices continue their anticipated climb. The Austin Board of Realtors...
Austin-area home sales, prices surge to record highs in 2017
Austin-area home sales, prices surge to record highs in 2017

Last year was another record-breaker for Central Texas’ housing market, the latest numbers show. And some local real estate agents and housing market experts predict 2018 will look a lot like 2017, with the market staying strong even as concerns about affordability linger as prices continue to climb. The Austin Board of Realtors said Thursday...
Gold’s Gym ending 24-hour operations at 4 Austin-area locations
Gold’s Gym ending 24-hour operations at 4 Austin-area locations

Better squeeze in those late-night workouts while you can. Four Central Texas Gold’s Gym locations that are currently open 24 hours will scale back their operating hours starting next month, the chain confirmed Thursday. The affected gyms are: 9101 Research Blvd., Austin 4404 W. William Cannon Drive, Austin ...
More Stories