WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs in March, Friday’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
The jobless rate stayed flat at 4.1 percent, and wage growth rose slightly, up just 2.7 percent from March 2017.
There is now a job open for every unemployed person in the country, so heftier pay raises should be on the way, said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America, a credit insurance firm.
“It’s a pretty solid economic picture altogether,” he said, although job creation slowed from February’s unusually large burst of 313,000 positions.
The share of Americans who are employed or job hunting has crept up this year, too. That’s good news to economists, who want to see the labor force participation rate return to pre-recession levels of about 66 percent. It stood at 63 percent in February, a slight improvement over January’s 62.7 percent.
Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, said the economy isn’t likely to keep churning out 300,000-plus jobs each month, but a figure closer to 200,000 is “nothing to sneeze at” as the labor market keeps tightening.
This year, he said in an e-mail, “It isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that we could see a jobless rate as low as 3.5%, last seen in 1969 when the Beatles were still cranking out hits.”
But some companies have expressed concern about negative effects on their businesses from rising tensions about trade. (Trump announced last month that he planned to slap tariffs on $50 billion in imported Chinese goods, prompting the Asian giant to respond Wednesday with levies on U.S. soybeans, pork and cars, among other products. On Thursday, Trump ordered his chief trade negotiator to consider imposing tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese products.)
Two employer surveys released this week by the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group in Arizona, found uncertainty around trade is already rattling businesses.
Respondents in the construction industry told the ISM that “accurate, long-term planning has become incredibly difficult, as distributors that historically held costs for at least 30 days are now, in some cases, committing to only seven days, as prices can change drastically in that time.”
Manufacturers, meanwhile, reported that the tariffs Trump imposed last month on steel and aluminum imports have raised prices, caused “panic buying” and led to “inventory shortages.”
Still, Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, which connected job seekers to roughly 300,000 positions last year, said growth across the economy appears strong.
Businesses added 241,000 jobs in March, with construction, manufacturing and transportation leading the growth, payroll processor ADP said Wednesday in a separate estimate.
Meanwhile, manufacturing grew by 31,000 jobs in February. Most came from transportation equipment (8,000) and fabricated metal products (6,000), according to last month’s government numbers.
Specialty trade contractors recorded gains of 38,000 positions, while building assembly jobs increased by 16,000. (The construction sector overall has added 180,000 positions in the last four months.)
Worries about tariffs haven’t dampened the need for workers, Frankiewicz said, but they could be keeping pay down.
“We’ve heard from clients who say ‘we could do something with wages, but we’re waiting to see the impact of tariffs on pricing,’ “ she said. “Uncertainty is delaying some investment.”