The monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report underwhelmed – a gain of 126,000 jobs, the weakest since December 2013 – with unemployment staying at 5.5 percent. Estimates for January and February were lowered, subtracting 69,000 jobs. Pundits blame it on the weather.
This is a record 54th straight month of jobs growth for the U.S. economy. The recovery – which still hasn’t lifted working families – remains stronger than that of the European Union, crippled by wrong-headed austerity programs.
Average hourly wages rose by just 7 cents, and, over the last year, have grown only by 2.1 percent, far short of the 3 percent annual wage growth seen prior to the Great Recession.
Over 17 million people are still in need of full-time work. The labor participation rate – those who have jobs and those who are looking – and the employment-population rate remain mired below pre-recession levels.
The mining sector lost jobs, a reflection of the effects of low-priced oil. More than one-third of jobs cut in the first quarter were attributed to falling oil prices, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement firm.
Manufacturing saw little change, as the strong dollar begins to put a crimp in exports.
The slow growth in jobs and wages should lead the Federal Reserve to shelve any notion of raising interest rates. Inflation remains far below the Fed’s target of 2 percent, which should be a floor.
While the economy continues to add jobs, the benefits of growth have still not reached working families. Millions remain unemployed, ready to return to the workforce. For African Americans, with unemployment rates more than two times that of whites, the situation is particularly dire. An entire generation of young African Americans is sinking.
Stagnant wages limit consumer demand. The strong dollar will increase imports and make exports more expensive. With Walmart and McDonald’s raising wages on the bottom, there’s hope that the jobs market might be tightening enough to lead employers to compete a bit more for workers. But, to date, declining gas prices are the only raise people have felt in their pocketbooks.
The Congress continues to cost workers jobs and wage increases. It remains a continuing and direct impediment to the recovery. A large, long-term program to rebuild our decrepit infrastructure is desperately needed, and would put people back to work, generating demand and boosting the economy. Instead, this Congress continues to cut vital investments. That leaves the Fed’s rock-bottom interest rates as the only boost to the economy.
The Fed is understandably worried about the bubbles and the gambling that low interest rates generate. But raising interest rates will only add to the millions already in need of work.