Don’t Be Fooled By March’s Wimpy Payroll Growth

With nothing more than a quick glance, March's jobs report was a bit alarming. We only added 103,000 new positions, and the unemployment rate actually didn't edge lower to 4.0%, as was expected. That's a far cry from the 326,000 new payrolls added in February, particularly in light of the fact that we're allegedly in the midst of a booming economy.

As has been the case for a while now, there's more to the story.

Yes, we only added 103,000 new jobs last month. There's a reason, though. That is, the unusually cold weather put the kibosh on construction work that would normally be underway by now. And, with an unemployment rate of 4.1%, there may simply be not enough available workers to fill open positions (more on that in a moment). Take a look.

Not all is as it seems.

Though a "just barely" change, there are fewer officially unemployed people out there right now, and fewer people who are not in the labor force but looking for a job. The latter is at a multi-year low, and the former is almost at a multi-year low. Both are edging lower too, but there's just not much room left for structural progress on those fronts. That's why we just couldn't add to the total number of people with jobs last month... we're quite close to maximum employment as is. (Per the latest look at the job openings report, "JOLTS," the number of unfilled positions as of January was indeed at a record high.)

In that same vein, the number of people actively in the labor force (with a job, or just looking for one) continues to inch higher, but still has tremendous room to continue improving. This is true of the employment/population ratio as well as the labor force participation rate. The labor force participation rate isn't exactly humming, but we do see forward progress there.

Finally - and as we've said many times of late - the real litmus test for an improving employment picture will mostly be improved wages, as a lack of available employees and demand for labor (created by a strengthening economy) will force employers to pay better to compete for workers. We're seeing progress there too.

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