WASHINGTON : US jobs growth plodded along at a solid but unspectacular pace in March as the economy appeared to be emerging from one of the coldest winters in recent memory, government data showed. The world’s largest economy added 192,000 jobs in March — a shade below analysts’ average estimate of 195,000 net new jobs — and the unemployment rate held steady at 6.7 percent, the Labor Department said. Still, the overall picture was more upbeat about a first quarter plagued by unusually bad winter weather in much of the country. The department revised job growth for the prior two months up a net 37,000. February’s number was hiked by 22,000 to 197,000.
The March jobless rate, matching February’s 6.7 percent, disappointed expectations of a dip. The number of unemployed held steady at 10.5 million. Both measures have shown little movement since December.
The March pace of job creation was better than the average of 183,000 over the prior 12 months.
“The post-winter rebound we hoped for did not happen, but the winter hit was smaller than previously believed,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.
“Payrolls have now returned to their pre-winter trend of just under 200,000 per month, more than enough to keep the unemployment rate trending down, unless the labor force begins to expand more rapidly.”
The markets took the mostly in-line numbers in stride, but nevertheless ended the day lower under a sell-off, particularly in the tech market.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.96 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index dived 2.60 percent.
The euro edged up against the dollar.
“Overall, the employment data won’t change any perceptions that the economy is growing at a decent but sluggish pace,” Briefing.com said.
“More importantly, the data also won’t change any perceptions as to how the Fed might act.”
More people were employed and actively seeking jobs in March, suggesting increased confidence in job prospects. The participation rate rose 0.2 percentage points to 63.2 percent.
March’s job gains were exclusively in the private sector, though the number of new private nonfarm payrolls came in well below the 205,000 anticipated. Government added no jobs following a gain of 9,000 in February.
The vast services sector led growth with 57,000 new jobs. Gains were registered in health, food and beverage services and construction, while manufacturing shed 1,000 jobs.
The average workweek jumped to 34.5 hours, wiping out declines over the past three months.
Average hourly earnings edged down by one cent to $24.30, following a nine cent increase in February.
The White House welcomed the steady improvement in job growth over the past year but said more official efforts were needed to encourage hiring.
“While today’s data indicates that the recovery is continuing to unfold, the President still believes further steps must be taken to strengthen growth and boost job creation,” Jason Furman, head of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement.
- Fed tightening at bay -
Economists said the largely anticipated March jobs report should have little impact on the Federal Reserve’s measured reduction of its stimulus program that started in January and is expected to wind up before the year ends, and would keep any hike in its near-zero key interest rate at bay.
The US central bank has cut $10 billion a month from its asset-purchase program, now at $55 billion. The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to lop off another $10 billion at its April 29 and 30 meeting.
The Fed is particularly concerned about the persistently high level of long-term unemployed amid the slow recovery from the Great Recession.
In March, the number of people jobless for 27 weeks or more barely budged at 3.7 million, accounting for 35.8 percent of the unemployed.
“The flat unemployment rate, helped by the rise in the participation rate, along with the tame earnings data... and the rise in involuntary part-time employment, will reinforce the case of Fed officials arguing that tightening is still a long way away,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.