Economists had expected 180,000 new jobs in February. Not even close: Hiring tumbled as US employers added just 20,000 jobs last month, the fewest in nearly a year and a half. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell to 3.8% from 4%. Businesses stepped up their competition for workers and raised average hourly pay 3.4% from a year earlier, the largest gain in a decade. The sharp slowdown in hiring, which may have been worsened by unseasonably cold weather, comes after employers added a blockbuster 311,000 jobs in January, the most in nearly a year. In the past three months, job gains have averaged 186,000. Three takes:
- From the AP: "Slowing global growth, a trade war with China and signs of increased caution among consumers have led many economists to forecast weaker growth in the first three months of this year. Still, most analysts expect businesses to keep hiring and growth to rebound in the April-June quarter. It will be harder than usual, though, to get a precise read on the economy because many data reports are still delayed by the partial shutdown of the government, which ended Jan. 25."
- From Bloomberg: "The big miss on payrolls may fuel concern about the mood among US consumers following a December retail-sales slump that was the worst in nine years. ... At the same time, policy makers and economists might wait for several months of weak hiring before concluding there’s cause for concern. Some of the weakness could be chalked up to winter weather, as construction jobs fell by 31,000."
- From the Wall Street Journal: It sees the new jobs numbers as "a sign employers could be struggling to find workers as the labor market tightens. ... A tighter labor market, in theory, should also translate into faster wage growth, as employers compete for scarce labor. Friday’s report showed that is materializing."
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