Job gains whiff, unemployment rate falls to postrecession low

US employers added 98,000 nonfarm payrolls in March, far fewer than forecast, according to a report from the Bureau of Labour Statistics released Friday.

Economists had expected the US economy to add 180,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg.

“Although the details for March were a little bit soft, I think the labour market is in fine shape and will continue to improve throughout 2017,” said Gus Faucher, the chief economist at PNC. “The unemployment rate was down to its lowest level in almost a decade.”

The unemployment rate fell to a postcrisis low of 4.5%, and the number of people who were working part time but preferred a full-time job fell by 151,000 to 5.5 million.

The manufacturing sector added 11,000 jobs in March after a strong month of hiring in February that had been partly attributed to unusually warm weather. Many economists did not expect the sector to maintain the kind of gains it saw in February as robots play an increasing role and even amid promises from Washington to create many more manufacturing jobs.

“Over the longer run, we are going to see productivity gains that do result in job losses in manufacturing, and that’s been the trend over the last three or four decades,” Faucher told Business Insider.

The retail sector continued to contract, with department stores expected to close up to 3,500 stores early in 2017. About 29,700 retail jobs were cut in March, and the vast majority were from department stores that sell everything from furniture to vegetables. Online retailers, the big competitors to physical stores, gained 2,200 jobs.

Total nonfarm payrolls in February were revised lower to 219,000 from 235,000 prior; the BLS tends to significantly revise the first two jobs reports of the year to account for the weather.

The pace of overall job creation partly depends on how many people — especially those in the prime age range of 25 to 54 — return to the workforce. The labour-force participation rate was unchanged at 63%, remaining near the lowest level in decades as baby boomers continue to enter retirement.

Average hourly earnings increased 0.2% month-on-month and 2.7% year-on-year, still near a postrecession high. The postcrisis record, set in February at 2.8%, was further evidence of a tighter labour market.

Via Bloomberg, here’s what Wall Street was expecting:

  • Nonfarm payrolls: +180,000
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Average hourly earnings month-on-month: +0.2%
  • Average hourly earnings year-on-year: +2.7%
  • Average weekly hours worked: 34.4

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