United States unemployment rate dropped to 4.5% in March

Employers added 98,000 jobs last month - far fewer than the 180,000 expected by economists and less than half the figure for January and February. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 68 cents, or 2.7%, the same annual rate as inflation, according to February figures released last month.

Last month's weakness in hiring may point to sluggishness in the economy, but unusual weather might also have been a factor.

Economists had expected job gains of 5,000 last month and the unemployment rate to increase to 6.7 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters.

The report also found that 95 per cent of the new positions - or 18,400 jobs - were created in the more precarious category of self-employment, which can include people working for a family business without pay. The nation has added 178,000 new jobs on average over the past three months, far above what economists say is the pace necessary to keep up with population growth.

The strength of the US economy in recent months has helped persuade the Federal Reserve to continue taking its foot off the accelerator by gradually raising interest rates from the ultra-low levels of the recession.

Alberta easily saw the biggest overall job boost among provinces, adding 20,700 full-time jobs last month.

A broad measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they can not find full-time employment, fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.9 percent, the lowest level since December 2007. That lowered the year-on-year gain in wages to 2.7 percent.

Indeed chief economist Jed Kolko puts it this way: "It's not just that the unemployment rate was down, it was down for the right reason, which is that more people were getting back to work". They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

The change in temporary help services employment for January was revised from +6,500 to +15,100, and the change for February was revised from +3,100 to +8,900. Yet the report on the health of the labor market in March is important for assessing the underlying strength of the economy, and it has policy implications. Bankruptcies and store closings continue to plague retailers, who face stiff competition from online retailers such as Amazon.

Background and Analysis: On a year-over-year (y/y) basis (March 2017 over March 2016), total nonfarm employment was up 1.5%, and monthly job gains have averaged approximately 182,000 over the past 12 months. Government payrolls increased 9,000 as state and local government hiring offset a 1,000 drop in federal jobs.

  • Anthony Vega