Jobs Report Reflects Slow Pace of Growth

by Douglas Holtz-Eakin

The labor market continues to struggle. The March jobs report was weak, perhaps influenced by weather, but reflecting the slow overall pace of GDP growth.

  • Payroll employment rose by only 120,000 in March, under one-half of the average the past three months.
  • The unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent because employment fell in the household survey, but the labor force fell even more. 

Inside the report were few glimmers of strength.

  • Hours of work fell overall, and sharply in manufacturing.
  • Total payroll grew only modestly.

Weather probably influenced the report. Warm winter weather raised employment in January and February, leading to less growth in March.

  • The distribution of jobs — up strongly in manufacturing and down in retail trade — suggests a very mixed picture.

The bottom line: The economy continues to slowly recover from the Great Recession. Focusing on one month of data is always dangerous; the March data are consistent with steady but mediocre job and GDP growth in the first half of 2012.