WASHINGTON – Hiring in the United States slowed dramatically in March, with the U.S. economy creating 98,000 jobs – only about half of the 180,000 that economists had forecast, according to data the Labor Department released Friday
The new figure represented the weakest job creation since May 2016.
The January and February numbers were revised lower by a combined 38,000 jobs. In January the economy created 216,000 jobs, not 238,000; the revised number for February was 219,000, not 235,000.
The bright spot in the latest government jobs report was that the overall unemployment rate continues to drop. The unemployment rate fell from 4.7 percent to 4.5 percent in March, the lowest level since May 2007. Economists believe an unemployment rate of 4-5 percent represents full employment – as in, anyone who wants a job has one. The number of unemployed people declined from 326,000 to 7.2 million in March, according to the data.
Employment increased in professional and business services, with 56,000 jobs being added. The mining sector added 11,000 jobs.
March marks the 78th consecutive month of job growth – the longest since official record-keeping began in 1939.
One glaring trend in the data is the weakness in retail jobs. In March, retail lost 29,700 jobs. That follows a loss of 30,000 jobs in February. Bankruptcies and store closings continue to plague retailers, who face stiff competition from online retailers such as Amazon.
Average hourly earnings are still on the rise, increasing 5 cents in March to $26.14, according to the report.
Some analysts believe the major storm on the East Coast in March skewed some of the jobs figures and are waiting to see what happens in the April. The construction industry had gained 59,000 jobs in February but added just 6,000 in March. Many analysts blame the blizzard for the slowdown but some fear the demand for new construction could be weakening.