Quick Takes | Jobs and Unemployment

Pre-Recession Private Sector Peak Regained— Don’t Get Excited!

Today’s jobs report showed a modest recovery continuing as we enter the spring, and many, many miles to go before reaching full employment. The labor market added 192,000 jobs in March, bringing the average growth rate of the last three months to 178,000.

While total employment is still more than 400,000 jobs below where it was when the Great Recession began over six years ago, the private sector passed its pre-recession employment peak in March. But it is important to keep in mind that re-attaining pre-recession employment levels is a pretty meaningless benchmark economically. The potential labor force is growing all the time, so the private sector should have added millions of jobs over the last six-plus years. The overall gap in the labor market, which includes both the private and public sectors, is 7.3 million jobs. At the pace of growth of the last 3 months, it will take more than 5 years to fill that gap.

The unemployment rate held steady in March, but that masked some good news. The share of the working-age population with a job ticked up by one-tenth of a percent, and the labor force participation rate rose by two-tenths of a percent, which means the number of “missing workers”—workers who have left the labor force due to weak job opportunities—dropped from 5.7 million to 5.3 million. There is a great deal of month-to-month variability in the number of “missing workers,” so we can’t make too much of one’s month’s drop, but this is a step in the right direction.

Average hourly wages of private sector workers and of production and nonsupervisory both dropped slightly in March, underscoring the tremendous slack that remains in the labor market.

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