US employers add just 98K jobs, as rate falls to 4.5 pct

The Labor Department said Friday the unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in March but the USA economy added just 98,000 jobs, missing the 180,000 forecast.

The report said non-farm payroll employment climbed by 98,000 jobs in March after surging up by a revised 219,000 jobs in February. It was barely half the previous month's gain.

The agency adds Canada's unemployment rate ticked up slightly in March to 6.7%, after falling in February to its lowest level since October 2008. But even as the number of new jobs created came in well short of what economists were looking for, the unemployment rate beat expectations to hit levels not seen in 10 years.

Construction companies added just 6,000 jobs in March, the fewest in seven months. Analysts had projected the economy would add about 180,000 jobs, suggesting economic growth may be cooling. Hiring should rebound closer to that level in the coming months, economists say. Those increases had been fueled partly by strong hiring in construction, which occurred because of unseasonably warm weather.

Health care and social assistance added a robust 16,700 jobs in March while manufacturers added 11,000, the fifth consecutive monthly gain for the factory sector.

Adult women, whites and Hispanics saw employment gains while other major worker groups saw little change.

And all the new jobs added were full time, the government said.

Meanwhile, hourly pay increased 2.7% over 12 months, down from the 2.8% recorded in February. while the average United States workers worked a total of 34.3 hours per week, unchanged from the previous 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's down from a peak in 2010 of 17.1 percent.

The tighter labour market is prompting employers to pay more to attract and retain workers, said Amy Glaser, senior vice president at Adecco USA, a leading staffing firm.

As a result, economists had expected a falloff in hiring in March.

Consumer and business sentiment has soared since the November presidential election, but the increased optimism hasn't yet accelerated growth. Trump has pledged to pursue pro-growth policies such as tax cuts and deregulation. Many analysts expect that trend will result in average monthly payroll gains of about 170,000 this year, down from 187,000 last year and 226,000 in 2015.

Average hourly wages rose 5 cents to $26.14, but annual gains slipped to 2.7% from 2.8% the prior month.

"Right now, real wages are basically stagnant", said Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management. For much of the recovery, wages were only growing about 2%. Women made up almost all those who gained jobs, with the unemployment rate for adult men unchanged, at a still-low 4.3 percent. Retailers including J.C. Penney Co Inc and Macy's Inc have announced thousands of layoffs as they shift toward online sales and scale back on brick-and-mortar operations. Still, the drop last month was worse than expected. Retail payrolls fell 29,700, declining for a second straight month.

  • Eleanor Harrison