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Job market thaws, but without heat

By Mark Hamrick ·
Friday, April 4, 2014
Posted: 3 pm ET

Will the economy spring forward? For workers, it might not have been a winter of discontent, but it wasn't much to celebrate either.

Winter was a drag across much of the country. It weighed on spirits as well as the economy. Just how much the weather affected the job market remains good fodder for debate.

With the Labor Department's release of the March employment report, we now know that job growth was close to what we've seen over the past couple of years. We also know that January and February were a little better than initially reported.

Stuck in neutral

Specifically, the unemployment rate remained at 6.7 percent. Hiring has been steady, but restrained. Indeed, in a statement from the White House, Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, says, "The economy continued to add jobs in March at a pace consistent with job growth over the past year."

Some 192,000 jobs were added to payrolls last month. Over the previous 12 months, payrolls growth has averaged 183,000 a month. Many Americans, particularly some of the 10.5 million unemployed, continue to hope for an acceleration of employment.

Slow start to 2014

Economist Doug Handler with IHS Global Insight says the jobs report is consistent with the firm's prediction of annual growth of 0.9 percent during the first three months of the year, "rebounding to a 2.7 percent rate in the second quarter."

Economists, and the public, continue to be plagued by a persistent quandary: whether the glass is half full or half empty. The truth is, it remains a little of both.

"Although the labor market is righting itself and on the path to sustainable growth, it is far from healthy" says Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director of Moody's Analytics.

Lack of quality

While also acknowledging progress, economist Diane Swonk with Mesirow Financial writes in her blog, "The broader concern is the lack of 'quality' hires, which is holding down wage growth along with ongoing slack in the labor market."

In March, business and professional services added 57,000 jobs. About half of those were in the temporary help area. Health care added 19,000 jobs, similar to what has been seen there over the past year as well. Construction accounted for another 19,000 jobs.

Improvement in wages has been disappointing, or even absent. The Labor Department says average hourly earnings have risen 2.1 percent over the past year through March, but declined during the month. A thaw in frozen wage growth would be warmly welcomed by many Americans as well.

Do you have high hopes for the economy this year? Are you ready to spend more, or are you waiting for better times ahead?

If you need a job but are wondering where to look, check out the five best job sectors for the months ahead.

Follow me on Twitter: @Hamrickisms.


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