Nonfarm employers added a disappointing 126,000 jobs to their payrolls in March, well under consensus estimates of 247,000. The unemployment rate also held steady at 5.5 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. It's an unusually dismal report, so we've broken down what's so bad about it and even found some of the good nuggets:
The good news
Wages went up. Average hourly earnings grew by 7 cents, with the year-over-year growth standing at 2.1 percent. That's not stellar performance — it's roughly in line with recent months' wage growth — but it's good that wages didn't stay flat or fall while job growth also slowed. Higher wages are one sign that slack is diminishing and that employers are starting to have to pay workers more.
U-6 unemployment fell. You have to dig a little bit to find a lot more good news in this jobs report, but here's another bright-ish spot: the broadest measure of unemployment, which includes people employed part-time for economic reasons, as well as discouraged workers (that is, people who have given up on the job search), slipped from 11 to 10.9 percent. That's down 1.7 points from a year ago. Not only that, but it narrows the gap between that U-6 unemployment rate and the U-3 unemployment rate (the widely reported jobless rate — the one that held at 5.5 percent last month). A narrowing of that gap is another modest sign of an improving economy.
Underemployment rate dropped while unemployment rate was unchanged, so U-6/U-3 spread narrowed pic.twitter.com/9570t6bCJQ— Matthew B (@boes_) April 3, 2015
The bad news
126,000. That's just an ugly number, and it breaks the streak of 12 straight 200,000-plus months of payroll growth. That's the lowest monthly payroll growth since December 2013. Altogether, we've averaged an uninspiring 197,000 over the past three months.
Ugly revisions. Everyone cheered the last two, generally positive jobs reports. Turns out, we may have spoken too soon. January's payroll figure has just been revised from 239,000 to 201,000, and February's from 295,000 to 264,000. Altogether, that's 69,000 fewer jobs than we had thought were there.
The labor force shrank. The number of people in the labor force — that is, either working or actively looking for work — shrank by 96,000 last month, and the labor force participation rate also slipped by 0.1 percentage points, to 62.7 percent. It's been bumping along around that level since late last year. Before then, the last time the participation rate had been at 62.7 percent was 1978. A declining participation rate is in part a sign that people are retiring, but what's troubling is that it could also be a sign that people have give up their job searches or even retired earlier than they wanted, thinking they can't find work.
More part-timers want full-time work. The number of people who are part-time for economic reasons picked up by 70,000 last month. These are "involuntary part-time" workers, who would like more hours but can't get them. Right now, there are around 6.7 million of these people — that's down sharply from around 9.1 million at the height of the recession, but it's also 2.3 million more than there were just before the recession. This is one more sign that there's plenty of slack in the labor market: there just aren't enough hours to go around.
Oil drags on job growth. This was the third straight month of declining payroll growth in mining and logging, the Bureau of Labor Statistics category that includes oil jobs. As oil prices have fallen, it has helped consumers but also put a damper on hiring in the oil industry, which is a likely explanation for a lot of the weakness in mining. The mining and logging industry lost 11,000 jobs last month, as it did in February.