The March 2014 U.S. employment report released by the Department of Labor on Friday shows the harsh winter did not damage the job market as much as previously expected. Unemployment remains unchanged at 6.7 percent but labor force participation increased, which means more people either found jobs or were encouraged enough with local conditions to begin looking for work again.
“I think this is a ho-hum report, particularly given that we had this substantial revision from last month,” said Jerry Webman, chief economist for OppenheimerFunds. “Almost a half a million people got jobs and the unemployment rate didn’t increase. So the participation rate and the employment rate both increased by almost a half a million. A half a million more people entered the labor force and they all got jobs.”
While the participation rate rebounded to a seven-month high of 63.2 percent, average hourly earnings were unchanged in March compared to February while hours worked increased slightly.
“Now that weather-related weakness is behind us, we anticipate that the monthly gains in payroll employment will remain close to the 200,000 mark, driving the unemployment rate gradually lower,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics, in a research note.
Youth unemployment continues to be a real concern, however. Millennials between the ages of 18 and 29 are staring at an 11.4 percent unemployment rate. The figures are significantly higher for African-Americans, Hispanics and women. Overall, the number of working-age youths that are either jobless or have given up looking for work stands at 15.8 percent.
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"Chronic unemployment and underemployment continue to plague my generation, and this month’s report shows we aren’t making any meaningful progress,” said Patrice Lee, a representative of Generation Opportunity, an Arlington, Va.-based youth advocacy organization.
Sectors that saw the biggest gains include temporary help services, which added 29,000 jobs last month. Some analysts say this is a sign that more permanent positions will be available in the near future, but with the changing nature of the U.S. job market – with more low-paying service-industry related jobs and employers increasingly seeking ways to reduce their dependence on long-term, permanent positions -- growth in the temp industry, where workers get short stints of employment and (maybe) benefits, isn’t exactly the best indicator of a healthy labor market.
The long-term unemployed, defined as people who have been out of the job market for at least 27 weeks, remained relatively unchanged from February, at 3.7 million people. The figure is down almost 20 percent from March 2013.
The country is still about 200,000 jobs shy of recouping the 8 to 9 million jobs lost in the last recession. The rebound is coming primarily from the private sector. Federal government employment declined last month while local government ticked up.