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US Economy Adds 216,000 Jobs in March

legal pad, unemploymnt

(photo: AngelaArcher.com)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the economy added 216,000 jobs in March, and the topline unemployment rate dipped slightly to 8.8%. The January and February revisions were virtually unchanged.

There remain 13.5 million unemployed Americans, according to the survey, with 6.1 million considered long-term unemployed (that means out of work for more than 26 weeks). This is the number that keeps rising; it now makes up 45.5% of the entire unemployed workforce. The longer you’re out of a job, the longer it takes to find a job. And because extended benefits currently run out at 99 weeks, the clock is really ticking for this segment.

In addition to the 13.5 million unemployed, there are still 8.4 million involuntary part-time workers. This is little changed from the previous month. But it shows you how many millions are either out of work or part-time because they cannot find enough hours. Add to that 921,000 “discouraged workers,” who have given up looking for work because they don’t believe any jobs are available for them. And those who have totally left the labor force aren’t even counted in the BLS survey.

And where did these new jobs come from? About 1/2 of the total came in the service sector. 29,000 hires came from temp work. Professional and technical services increased by about 35,000, and manufacturing and mining increased slightly. Health care was also a continued strong sector.

The public sector continues to be a drag on growth. It edged downward again, as $10 billion in budget cuts for the year, enacted in two stopgap spending bills, took effect. Since the peak in September 2008 (notice the time frame), public sector jobs have decreased by 416,000. And with expected cuts coming at the state and federal level, more layoffs are on the way.

The employment-population ratio, the average workweek, and average hourly earnings were all unchanged. So these are not exactly high-paying jobs coming into the labor force, nor are current workers getting a boost from this increased labor activity yet.

+216,000 is an improvement on the expectations, but 8.8% unemployment remains high, and the economy is just starting to absorb the shocks of high commodity prices, the Japanese earthquake, and federal budget cuts. This is great news for the 216,000 Americans back on the job; I hope it stays that way.

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David Dayen

David Dayen