Some Welcome Job News in February — in Perspective

This morning the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that nonfarm payrolls increased by 236,000 jobs. Over the past quarter, the nation has seen average monthly job growth of 191,000. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 7.7% in February, largely tranks to a drop in labor force participation.

Below are some key observations from D.C.'s leading labor economists on today's jobs report:

The unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in the aftermath of the downturn. This increase was not due to a larger share of the working-age population landing jobs, however, as labor force participation slipped back to its lowest point of the downturn.

All in all this was a strong report, but we need reports this strong and stronger for several years to get back to health in the labor market.

There was some modest good news on the wage front with the average hourly wage increasing at a 2.85 percent rate in the last three months compared to the prior three. This would indicate some acceleration and actual real wage growth, but it is way too early to assume the pattern will continue. 

The 236,000 new jobs reported for February are a good sign and better than generally expected, but there is the risk that this is being driven by unusually good winter weather. This could lead to a situation like we saw last year with very weak job growth in the spring as the result of hiring being pulled forward. This is basically a picture of an economy that is showing modest growth, but has not yet felt the impact of the end of the payroll tax cut and the sequester.

Even though government cutbacks have slowed economic growth over the winter, this drag on the economy has not yet shown up in slower employment growth. We shouldn’t break out the champagne yet, however, as the sharp cuts in government spending implemented a week ago today will add roadblocks to recovery.

According to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) March employment report, one-third (80,000) of the new jobs added in February went to women while men gained 156,000. ...

IWPR analysis of the BLS payroll data shows as of February, women have regained 74 percent (2 million) of the total jobs they lost in the recession from December 2007 to the trough for women’s employment in September 2010 (2.7 million). Men have regained nearly 62 percent (3.8 million) of the jobs they lost between December 2007 and the trough for men’s employment in February 2010 (6 million).

Finally, Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has some charts and tables illustrating today's jobs report. Here are just a few.

CBPP: Long-Term Unemployment at Record Levels

CBPP: Job Losses Far Exceed Other Recent Recessions


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