The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March jobs report put an unwanted exclamation point on the most widely used description of the nation’s labor market: Sluggish! Contrary to most expectations of yet another increase of 200,000+ new jobs, the report shows that employers added just 120,000. That’s the first time fewer than 200,000 jobs have been added since December 2011. The previous three months averaged 246,000.
The overall unemployment rate slipped to 8.2% in March from 8.3%, as the number of people looking for work fell slightly. “Employment rose in manufacturing, food services and drinking places, and health care, but was down in retail trade,” according to the BLS. The drop in retail amounted to 34,000 jobs. “Job loss in general merchandise stores more than offset gains in building material and garden supply stores and in health and personal care stores,” said the bureau.
Government jobs held pretty much steady after several consecutive months of cuts as all levels of government have sought to trim budgets by laying off workers, a total of 265,000 in 2011.
One bright spot in the latest report comes from the nation’s factories, which have clearly been leading the nation’s recovery so far: “Manufacturing employment grew by 37,000 in March and has increased by 470,000 since a recent low point in January 2010. Essentially all of the net gain over this period occurred in durable goods. In March, employment increased in motor vehicles and parts, machinery, fabricated metals, and paper manufacturing.”
The biggest downer: “The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was essentially unchanged at 5.3 million in March. These individuals accounted for 42.5 percent of the unemployed.”
With April 6 being Good Friday, the U.S. equity markets are closed, but futures traded this morning. And not surprisingly, traders weren’t happy. Dow Jones Industrials futures were down 137 points (1%), the S&P 500 16 points were lower (1.2%) and the Nasdaq shed 31 points (1.1%).
We’ll have to wait until Monday’s trading resumption to see the full extent of investors’ disappointment with the latest labor report. The GOP presidential candidates and President Obama’s critics, however, aren’t likely to hold their fire.