February Jobs Report Shows US Economy Slowing, Adding only 20,000 Jobs out of 185,000 Forecast

The US jobs report for February is here and it looks like the strong start to the year has already begun to slow.  Indeed, hiring in the United States was actually its weakest in more than a year, on the heels of nonfarm payrolls posting very disappointing numbers. Economists had originally forecast 185,000 new jobs would be added in February, but nonfarm payrolls only jumped by 20,000 while construction jobs fell by 31,000.  

Obviously, some hectic weather made this winter particularly tough for workers, but all sectors took a hit.  As a matter of fact, United States Department of Labor report that some-390,000 people had issues commuting to work in February, after the relatively mild January (that also followed an equally dramatic December). Indeed, it was not only leisure and hospitality businesses that saw decline: even education and health services had a weak month.  Actually, leisure and hospitality hiring showed zero change after adding 410,000 jobs over the course of the past year.   

The manufacturing sector added a measly 4,000 after five times more than this in January.   Similarly, health care jobs grew by 21,000 while professional and business services added double that.

Perhaps the only real set of good news from this month’s jobs report is that those who are finding work are making a little more than before.  It seems average hourly earnings rose by 3.4 percent over the previous year, which is better than what had been anticipated.  In addition, the jobless rate in the US dropped—at about the same rate, 3.8 percent—which is its lowest in nearly fifty years.

But even if the numbers are lower—far lower—than what had been expected, we are still looking at more than 100 consecutive months of job growth.  The smaller numbers, though, could indicate that the pool of available workers may finally be thinning.  

At the same time, very unstable international economic data has rocked the stock market and with uncertain political and trade relationships with other countries—particularly China—it is not easy to anticipate what the future holds. For example, many economists argue that a recession is inevitable while some say that the dramatic slowing in hiring is a sure sign that the economy is bottoming out, and that means the recovery is on the way. 

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