WASHINGTON • Hiring in the US cooled by more than forecast last month following a strong February while wages picked up and the jobless rate remained the lowest since 2000, returning labour-market progress to a more sustainable pace that may keep Federal Reserve policy makers on track for further interest rate increases.
Payrolls rose 103,000, compared with the median estimate of economists for 185,000, after an upwardly revised 326,000 advance, Labour Department figures showed yesterday. The jobless rate was 4.1 per cent for a sixth month, bucking forecasts for a decline, while average hourly earnings rose 2.7 per cent from a year earlier.
The results follow strong hiring last year and show an average pace of payroll growth this year that is still sufficient to push down the unemployment rate, which already is below Fed estimates of levels sustainable in the long run.
A wage pickup - which has remained elusive in this expansion - would support consumer spending, though economists worry it may also spark inflation.
But the spectre of a trade war with China is a wild card for the outlook, particularly after President Donald Trump raised tensions by ordering his administration to consider tariffs on an additional US$100 billion (S$132 billion) of Chinese imports.
The slowdown in payroll gains reflected reversals in construction and retail. Construction payrolls fell by 15,000 in March, the first decline since July, following a gain of 65,000 in February. Retailers cut 4,400 workers, following a rise of 47,300 in February.
The weather may have played a role, economists said before the report. Snowstorms in the north-east likely curbed hours worked and kept people away from their jobs, and March may have seen some payback after warmer temperatures boosted employment in February.
While the average workweek for all private employees was unchanged at 34.5 hours, hours edged down for production and non-supervisory workers, and those in manufacturing. A shorter workweek has the effect of boosting average hourly pay.
The participation rate, or share of working-age people in the labour force, fell to 62.9 per cent after jumping 0.3 percentage point to 63 per cent in the prior month. The rate, still hovering near the lowest level since the 1970s, will continue facing downward pressure as older workers retire.