In February, the economy added 240,000 jobs, double what it added in March. However, even February’s job creation number was less than the 275,000 jobs added in January.
March’s weaker job creation number continued a trend of falling job creation that began in January, as employers began shedding jobs that had been added during the busy holiday season. March’s job creation is the weakest since October 2011 when only 112,000 jobs were created and seems to suggest that economic growth is slowing down again.
While the official unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a point to 8.2 percent, that figure obscures the real economic hardship facing millions of Americans.
The number of people the BLS calls “unattached” to the labor force was 2.4 million, down slightly from February’s 2.6 million, but basically unchanged from one year ago. “Marginally attached” means that people are unemployed, available to work, want a job, but have not looked for one in the past month. Had these people looked for work in the past month, the BLS would count them in the official tally of unemployed people.
If these people were counted as unemployed, the official unemployment rate would be 9.6 percent.
The labor force participation rate fell to a near-record low of 63.8 percent, just one-tenth of a point from its record low of 63.7 percent in January. The last time the participation rate was that low was 1982, in the middle of another recession. However, unlike today, the participation rate quickly recovered following that recession.
The participation rate is the percentage of the population that is part of the labor force, both employed and unemployed. Those unemployed persons that BLS calls “marginally attached” are not counted as part of the labor force.
If the participation rate were at its pre-recession level, approximately 66 percent, the unemployment rate would be 11.3 percent. In other words, if all the people who have given up looking for work, retired early, or otherwise left the labor force returned, the unemployment rate would be significantly higher than the government’s official figures.