Unemployment Nation

March Jobs Report: Not Good

Five years in to the Great Recession, the economy still isn't putting people back to work

Payroll employment rose by 88,000 jobs in March. The best you can say about this is at least it's not falling. The conventional wisdom is that the economy needs to add around 125,000 jobs just to keep even with population growth, so we're about a third short. Headline unemployment stood unchanged at 7.6%, but that's because nearly half a million people left the labor force in March, and therefore were not counted as unemployed. As my former colleague Dan Indiviglio noted on Twitter, a half a million people leaving the labor force in the spring doesn't sound like retirement; it sounds like discouragement. People are finding it too hard to secure a job, so they're giving up.

The biggest weakness in the private sector was retail, which lost 24,000 jobs. This comes on top of reports that US retail sales were weak in March--and Walmart's February freakout over disappearing customers. Since retail can be the canary in the coal mine for the broader economy, there's real reason to be anxious.

That said, it's just one month. It's been a cold spring, which could be hurting retail sales, especially at home and garden centers, which lost a bunch of jobs. So don't start stocking up on canned goods and ammo just yet. But keep a close eye on the April figures.