In line with expectations, private-industry nonfarm payrolls rose 230,000 in March, down slightly from the 240,000 net gain posted in February, the Labor Department reports. A respectable rise, to be sure. All the more so since the job growth for March represents the 13th straight month of improvement for the private sector. In addition, last month’s advance is near the highest level since the labor market started growing again in early 2010. But while those are all encouraging signs, we’re still left with the fact that job growth of 200,000-plus a month isn’t helping lower the still-elevated jobless rate. Unemployment was virtually unchanged in March, inching down to 8.8% from 8.9% in February.
Otherwise, job growth was fairly widespread across the private sector. Within the cyclically sensitive goods-producing sector, only construction slipped, shedding 1,000 jobs in March. Meantime, the services industries, which constitutes the bulk of the employment in the U.S., had a strong month, adding 199,000 jobs in March—the highest monthly gain since the Great Recession ended.
The labor market appears to be finally chugging ahead by minting new jobs consistently and at a relatively robust pace. “All the evidence is pointing to a strengthening labor market,” says Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services. The challenge, however, is coming to terms with the reality that a respectable rebound in the labor market isn’t enough to make a dent in the lofty unemployment rate, which remains near its highest level in almost 30 years.
The good news is that the momentum and the direction in the job market are finally on the side of growth. “It is always possible that as the job market improves, people will start looking again and the unemployment rate could go up,” warns John Hancock’s Cheney. “But the normal pattern is once it starts coming down as rapidly as it has over the last few months, it keeps on going down.”
It’s just not likely to go down quickly or dramatically in a short period of time.