March Jobs Report: Keep Calm and This Time, Blame the Weather

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Stay calm. The March jobs report was just fine, and better than it looks at first glance. Although the 103k payroll gain was the lowest in six months, bad weather was probably a factor: excluding weather-sensitive sectors like construction and leisure & hospitality, March job growth was only modestly below the previous year’s average. In fact, growth in the 100k range is more than enough to keep up with the slow-growing working-age population. We’ll eventually have to get used to monthly gains of 100k or less. But don’t blame the steel tariff announcement — steel-producing industries lost a few jobs in March, while steel-consuming industries grew respectably. That’s the opposite of how tariffs might eventually affect job growth.

 

For workers, the jobs report brought good news. The prime-age employment-population ratio slipped a bit in March to 79.2%, but that’s still the second-highest level (last month was the highest) since 2008. And the broader underemployment (U-6) rate was at 8.0%, back to its lowest level since the end of 2006.

We’ve gotten spoiled. Recent months have raised expectations for the monthly jobs report, so It’s easy to lose sight of the good news today. Much of the payroll slowdown was weather-related, and the household-survey gains in recent months have largely been sustained. Worries about how a trade war or general slowdown might affect the labor market are premature.

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