Today’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Situation Summary for March indicates a recovery, albeit a slow one is in progress. The report reaffirms what the Obama administration has been conveying for some months now, that the nation’s economy has turned a corner but is still years away from making a full recovery. With the 2012 presidential campaign in full swing, the monthly BLS reports now serve as important benchmarks for Democrats and Republicans pushing to make the economy the central issue of the election.
The BLS reports that the economy added 120,000 new jobs in March and unemployment was unchanged from February’s number at 8.2 percent. As has been the case even before the official start of the recession, African-Americans are still lagging behind all groups in the labor market. Black unemployment is 14 percent, for Black men it is 13.8 percent and for Black women the rate is 12.3 percent. Black youth (16-19) are still being crushed under the weight of an unemployment rate at 40.5 percent. One positive sign is that the Black unemployment rate is no longer twice that of whites. However, progress can be deceiving since African-Americans are among those discouraged workers who are no longer seeking work out of the belief that there are no jobs available and therefore the official unemployment number does not include them.
Over the last three months, nonfarm payroll employment has risen by an average of 246,000 jobs per month. During March there were gains in private sector employment in manufacturing, food services and drinking places, and health care. Government employment remained flat as all levels of government have made significant cutbacks in hiring and undergone downsizing of public employees.
Manufacturing employment rose by 37,000 in March and the good news is that factory jobs have risen by 470,000 since a low point in January 2010. Last month there was a jump in employment in food services and drinking establishments, another positive sign that consumers are beginning to feel more confident and are spending money on leisurely pursuits. Employment in the health care sector continued to grow, adding 26,000 jobs in March. A sign of the importance of health care as a public policy is that physicians and hospitals each added 8,000 new jobs over the month of March. There were also gains in financial services (15,000) and professional and business services (31,000). The picture is not as bright in retail trade, shedding 34,000 jobs in March, mostly from job losses in general merchandise stores.
Long-term unemployment continues to loom in the shadows. These are people who have been out of work 27 weeks and longer. The number of long-term unemployed remains at 5.3 million and these individuals account for 42.5 of the unemployed. The number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons fell from 8.1 to 7.7 million over the month; a good sign since these people were working part-time because of cutbacks to their full-time hours or they were unable to find a full-time job. Last month 2.4 million people were marginally attached to the labor force. These individuals wanted to work and were available to work, and had sought employment sometime during the last 12 months. They were excluded from the official unemployment count because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly survey. Among this group are 865,000 discouraged workers; individuals who have given up their job search because they believe no jobs are available for them.