President Trump probably isn’t happy with the latest jobs report. The number of nonfarm jobs created in March — 98,000 — was far lower than economists had predicted. In February, the number was more than twice as high.
Economists believe this has a lot to do with the weather. A record number of construction jobs were added in February because of the unusually warm temperatures. That was followed by a cold front in March, which chilled job growth in the industry. Even with that dip, though, the economy has added an average of 178,000 jobs per month in the first three months of Trump’s presidency.
That’s a solid number, and on par with the trend of the last year. Monthly job growth averaged 196,000 from January through March 2016; for the entire year, the average was 187,000. There’s no real sign, in other words, that the economy is actually slowing down under Trump.
There is also no sign that Trump’s promise to bring back manufacturing and coal mining jobs has materialized in any major way, compared with the trends of the past several years.
Fewer manufacturing jobs were created
In March, 11,000 new manufacturing jobs were created. The previous three months had an average of 19,000 (the best three months for hiring by manufacturers since the end of 2014).
Compared with the numbers from Obama’s last year in office, it would seem like Trump’s election has been great for manufacturing. In 2016, the economy lost an average of 1,333 manufacturing jobs, compared with the average of 16,000 added so far this year.
But 2016 was a bit of an anomaly. Oil prices plunged, so demand for steel and other American goods used in oil exploration also dropped. Before that, from 2010 to 2015, factory jobs had been making a small comeback after massive layoffs during the recession, with an average of 11,000 manufacturing jobs added from 2013 through 2015.
That was largely due to the rebound of the auto industry, says Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution. Obama’s bailout of Detroit’s big automakers helped bring back many manufacturing jobs, and on top of that, Americans started buying cars again. “It soon became clear that the auto industry was going to survive,” Burtless said.
Trump is now running above that Obama second-term trend (excluding 2016) — but the difference would work out to only 60,000 additional factory jobs per year, well short of the “millions” of manufacturing jobs Trump has promised to bring back.
Fracking drives growth in mining jobs
Coal mining, another big revitalization promise from Trump, is an even weaker story. The latest jobs numbers for the mining industry overall look promising, with employment steadily increasing and 11,000 new jobs created in March. On closer inspection, though, most of these jobs are in the category of “support services.”
In other words, these aren’t the coal jobs that Trump promised to bring back. These are mostly jobs related to fracking, such as those required to install and maintain equipment needed to drill for oil and natural gas, says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. When oil prices rise, which has been happening in recent months, fracking activity increases too.
But can we really blame Trump for the otherwise lackluster numbers? Not really, says Baker, just like Trump couldn’t take credit for the boost in manufacturing jobs that came after his election. “We really haven’t seen the impact of his policies yet,” Baker says. “In a few more months that will be a different story.”
We’re experiencing the lowest unemployment rate since the onset of the Great Recession
One important thing to note is that Trump inherited an economy that was already showing signs of revival. During Obama’s second term, the economy was adding an average of 211,000 jobs a month. Since he took office in 2009, average hourly wages increased by $4 and the unemployment rate fell from 7.8 percent to 4.7 percent.
One positive sign from the government’s report was the 4.5 percent unemployment rate — a drop of two percentage points. It’s the lowest unemployment rate since May 2007, the onset of the Great Recession. “We’re almost back to pre-recession [rates], but not yet,” Baker says.
Most of the new jobs created this month were in the business and professional services—about 56,000. Workers in the retail-store jobs suffered the most, with 35,000 jobs lost in March, reflecting a steady decline since October. This likely has much to do with the closure of major brick-and-mortar retailers and competition from online sellers.
It will be interesting to see Trump’s response to the jobs report. He has criticized the Department of Labor’s job estimates in the past, calling them “phony” and “total fiction.” After a stellar jobs report in February, his administration changed it’s tune, praising the numbers and describing them as “very real.” As of Friday morning, he hadn’t tweeted anything about the latest numbers.