US adds 196,000 jobs in March; unemployment steady at 3.8%

WASHINGTON • US job creation came back to life last month with a hiring surge in healthcare, bars and restaurants, while unemployment held steady and worker wages continued to climb, government data showed yesterday.

The return to healthy job creation at the close of the first quarter should draw a sigh of relief from the White House after February's anaemic result when employers added just 20,000 net new positions, which had been the slowest in 17 months.

The world's largest economy added 196,000 net new positions for the month, well above expectations, while the jobless rate held steady at 3.8 per cent, according to the Labour Department.

The broad consensus among economists is that the United States economy is slowing as the boost from recent tax cuts and fiscal stimulus fades. But President Donald Trump's administration has forecast that 2019 will be another banner year for growth.

Average hourly wages rose four US cents for the month, putting them up 3.2 per cent over March of last year, more than twice the pace of consumer inflation over the same period.

This gives workers more purchasing power and suggests they will continue to spend despite surprising recent dips in retail sales and consumption.

A dark spot, however, was hiring among manufacturers, a sector hard-hit by Mr Trump's trade war with China. Automakers shed 6,300 jobs. Retailers also gave up nearly 12,000 workers. This was offset by gains in architecture, engineering and management services.

The labour force also shrank as more than 220,000 people stopped looking for work, driving the participation rate down 0.2 per cent to 63 per cent - a level around which it has stubbornly fluctuated for much of the past two years.

After steadily tightening interest rates last year, much to Mr Trump's chagrin, the Federal Reserve now forecasts it will not raise rates at all this year, taking note of slowing economic activity.

However, some economists believe even a slower pace of growth is enough to continue driving unemployment downward at a time when employers already say they are desperate to find capable workers.

As wages rise, inflation may soon follow, leaving central bankers little choice but to continue pushing their benchmark lending rate higher.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'US adds 196,000 jobs in March; unemployment steady at 3.8%'. Print Edition | Subscribe