U.S. added 120,000 jobs in March, 2012
The country's employers added a disappointing 120,000 jobs in March, about half the gains posted in each of the preceding three months. The unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey of households rather than employers, slipped to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent, as a lower portion of the population was looking for work.
The slowdown suggests that employers remain cautious about hiring as they digest the impact of rising gas prices and uncertainty about health care and pensions costs.
Politicians seized on the slippage, with the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, characterizing the report as "weak and very troubling." President Barack Obama, for his part, acknowledged the "ups and downs" of the job market.
"It's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way, and that we've still got a lot to do," the president said at a White House forum on women and the economy.
Obama accentuated the positive elements of a report that showed persistent weaknesses in the job market. The unemployment rate, he said, "ticked down," while the United States added 600,000 jobs in the past three months.
For a president turning to campaign footing, the Labor Department’s employment report has become a monthly political barometer — evidence to buttress the White
House’s case that its policies are hastening a recovery or Exhibit A in the Republican charge that Obama has been a failed economic steward.
Friday, Romney seized on the latter argument, declaring in a statement issued by his campaign that “this is a weak and very troubling jobs report that shows the employment market remains stagnant.”
In the past few months, when job creation was stronger, Romney has had to carefully calibrate his response. This time, however, he played up numbers that show the overall labor market is shrinking.
California’s statewide jobless rate was 10.9 percent last month, unchanged from January. The Bay Area’s jobless rate was 8.6 percent in February, according to this newspaper’s analysis of state Employment Development Department figures seasonally adjusted by Beacon Economics.
The South Bay posted a February jobless rate of 8.7 percent, down from 8.9 percent the previous month. Meanwhile, the East Bay’s was unchanged at 9.3 percent, while the San Francisco area’s was at 7.4 percent, worse than the previous month’s 7.3 percent rate, a Beacon estimate shows.
While there have been some indications, like falling unemployment claims, that the job market was finding its footing, anxieties about whether a stronger pace of recovery could be sustained have been building in recent weeks.
This week, global stock markets grew skittish as Spain’s ballooning debt level and weak bond offering raised the specter of a deepening economic slump in Europe. After a strong first quarter, the U.S. stock market has had several days of declines. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has tried to temper expectations and noted in a speech last month that the recent “better jobs numbers seem somewhat out of sync with the overall pace of economic expansion.”
The March pullback eerily repeats a pattern set in the past two years, when job growth appeared to be picking up in the winter, only to slow down in the spring. The monthly snapshot of the job market from the Labor Department can reflect transitory factors, however, and are often revised.
Economists suggested that the trend among employers to wring more work from fewer people continues to be a hallmark of the recession’s aftermath.
“What we are seeing now is an agonizingly slow recovery in the job market,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. “I believe what this reflects is this laser focus intensity that business leaders have nowadays to try to be able to increase production with less reliance on labor as a means to do so.”
Private sector companies added 121,000 jobs in March as government shed 1,000 jobs, driven by layoffs in the postal system and at the local level.
Among industries, manufacturing continued its run as the stalwart of job growth, adding 37,000 jobs in March.
But economists cautioned that factories were unlikely to bring back a majority of the 2 million people who lost their jobs during the recession.
Rather, manufacturers are recalibrating.
“In the worst of a downturn like this, they probably kicked too many people out the door,” said Cliff Waldman, senior economist at MAPI/the Manufacturers Alliance. “And now even with modest growth they have to bring people back.”
And despite recent improvements in retail sales, retailers shed nearly 34,000 jobs last month, a sign, some economists said, that the rapid incursion of e-commerce has hurt employment in the sector.
“You simply need fewer workers when you’re selling from a distribution center,” said Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at J.H. Cohn and a deputy assistant secretary for employment and training in the Reagan administration.