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March Jobs Report: Reaching Prepandemic Levels

Economists and market watchers agree that the most recent jobs report shows that the economy is close to recovered from the effects of the pandemic. The March jobs report shows the overall unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – just a little higher than the 50-year low that preceded the pandemic. With another month of solid job growth, March added 431,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls, which is slightly fewer than expected by economists. Broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender, the unemployment rate either was the same or fell in March.

This is a really strong jobs report showing that the economy added jobs in a broad-based fashion in both goods and services. People returned to the labor market. The labor force participation rate is still a percentage point lower than it was in 2020, which can take a little bit away from the positivity of this jobs report. While wage growth increased by $.13 per hour in March, wages are up by 5½% year over year, which is still lower than the rate of inflation – also taking away from an otherwise positive jobs report.

The March jobs report also shows positive news across the demographic spectrum. The black unemployment rate came down to 6.2% from 6.6% in February and from a high of 17% from early in the pandemic. The black unemployment rate was the hardest hit by the pandemic. While this is still almost twice as high as the unemployment rate for white workers, this is a historical relationship. This trend goes back to before the pandemic. When the labor market is tight, that gap narrows.

There is thought at the Fed to not target the overall unemployment rate because it excludes groups including people of color, women, and low-wage workers. Now that the economy has hit a marker indicating that the economy has recovered, there may be a move by the Fed to establish a policy to address these gaps in unemployment rates.

Of the 431,000 jobs added in March, 49,000 were from the retail trade industry, which features a heavy concentration of women. This number brings the total retail trade employment number to 278,000 payrolls higher than its number in February 2020. While the unemployment rates for Black women and Latino women is higher than the national average, it’s still half the prepandemic rate.

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