Blame the sequester or blame the decline in clean-up and construction work in wake of Superstorm Sandy. Whatever the reason, job creation sputtered out badly in March.
The economy added only 88,000 jobs last month — less than half of what Wall Street was expecting. The median forecast of 87 economists polled by Bloomberg called for 190,000 new jobs.
The numbers were ugly even after excluding all those rapidly disappearing public sector jobs. Private payrolls expanded by 95,000 against a forecast for 200,000.
The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate government survey, ticked down to 7.6% from 7.7%, the Department of Labor said in its monthly report. Economists expected the rate to remain unchanged.
However, as always, whether folks actually landed jobs greatly depended on the industry they were targeting.
Drilling down into the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March Employment Situation report showed at least a small silver lining: relative strength for job-seekers in professional and business services and healthcare.
Professional and business services added 51,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said, bringing the 12-month total to 533,000 new positions. The best performing area of growth last month was in accounting and bookkeeping services, which added 11,000 jobs. Temporary help services also continued to trend up, which is a positive sign, since temp work usually picks up ahead of full-time hiring.
The healthcare sector continued to add new jobs last month as well, growing by 23,000 positions. That was essentially in line with the sector’s average monthly growth over the past year. Top spots for job seekers included ambulatory healthcare services — like doctors’ offices and outpatient care facilities — as well as home healthcare services and hospitals.
The recovery in the housing market continued to drive new construction jobs, but the pace cooled off since previous months got a boost from hurricane clean-up efforts. Construction employment grew by 18,000 jobs in March, down from the 48,000 jobs added the previous month. Since September, the industry has added 169,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.
The worst area of the economy for job seekers in March was retail trade, where employment declined by 24,000. That reversed a six-month trend in which the industry added an average of 32,000 jobs a month.
The hardest hit areas in retail were clothing and clothing accessories stores, building material and garden supply stores, and electronics and appliance stores, the Labor Department said.
Elsewhere, the manufacturing, transportation and warehousing industries also posted small net employment losses.