March Job Growth: Still on Trend

April 9, 2012 – In Friday’s data, U.S. payroll employment rose by 120K in March. That’s only about half as much growth as we saw in the prior three months. From December through February, payroll growth averaged 246K per month (Chart 1).

Chart 1. Change in U.S. payroll employment. Thousands. Monthly. January 2007 through March 2012.

However, the falloff in March job growth was too little to affect the broader twelve-month trend. Payrolls rose by 1.5% in the twelve months through March, just matching their twelve-month gains in each of the prior two months (Chart 2).

Chart 2. Year-ago percent change in U.S. payroll employment. Monthly. January 1987 through March 2012.

This steady twelve-month trend suggests, in turn, that the slowing in March job growth was probably not a serious first step toward weakening labor demand.

That said, a 1.5% trend in job growth is not a particularly strong one, especially in a labor market that is still struggling to recover from the ravages of the last recession.

The economy lost a net total of 7.5M jobs between the peak of the last expansion (the month just before the recession began) and the recession’s trough (the recession’s last month). As of March, it had recovered only a net 2.3M of those job losses (Chart 3).

Chart 3. U.S. payroll employment. Millions. Monthly. Seasonally-adjusted annual rates. January 2007 through March 2012.

Given a sustained 1.5% trend, it would take until November 2014 to restore the payroll job count to its pre-recession level. That would leave us with nearly seven years of zero net job growth.

Bottom line: payroll employment continued on a trend of moderate growth in March.

Suzanne Rizzo