- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2010

UPDATED:

The nation’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.7 percent last month as employers shed another 36,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.

The report revealed another month of glacial improvement in the job market. The relatively small job loss was similar to the 29,000 job loss recorded in January and a marked improvement over the stunning 726,000 jobs slashed in February of 2009 at the height of the deep recession.

Job growth even re-emerged in some key sectors, led by the sixth straight month of job gains in temporary services — an area where employers often look to fill positions before adding permanent jobs. The 48,000 gain in temporary services, combined with a solid 32,000 gain in health care jobs and 15,000 in temporary census jobs led to an overall 42,000 gain in service jobs. That was the second month of job growth in the services sector, which is the largest part of the economy.

Construction firms continued to slash jobs, with 64,000 layoffs mostly in the non-residential area amounting to about half the job cuts of a year ago. Manufacturing — another area hit hard by the recession — managed to eke out a small 1,000 job gain. A year ago, an astonishing 166,000 jobs were lost in manufacturing in one month as two of the Big Three in Detroit sank into bankruptcy.



“The trend is still for smaller job losses leading to job gains by the second quarter,” which begins next month, said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities.”The private sector job situation is improving — ex-construction.”

Most economists expect the recession in commercial construction to continue all year. But other sectors like retail and manufacturing appear to have put their worst days behind them. Retail employment was steady after a big job gain of 41,800 in January.

Incomes did not improve in February, however. The average workweek edged down to 33.8 hours and average hourly earnings rose by only 3 cents — leading to a slight decline in weekly earnings. The figure was possibly held back by the severe snowstorms that hit in the Eastern part of the nation in early February. The department said people were counted as employed even if they stayed home during the week and did not receive pay for their snow days.

Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland, saw little cause for encouragement in the jobs report. He estimates that the unemployment rate was closer to 16.8 percent, if you include people too discouraged to continue looking for jobs and those who are working part-time because they can’t find full-time employment.

“Eight months into the much-touted recovery, the economy should be adding jobs, not losing jobs at a slower pace,” he said. “No study of economic history could yield a conclusion other than that the U.S. economy walks along the precipice of a double-dip recession.”

He said the economy is suffering from a fundamental lack of demand, which is preventing businesses from even considering expanding operations and hiring new staff. That is because U.S. consumers overspent during the boom years and are now too weighed down by debts and job fears to keep up their profligate spending habits.

“No customers, no capital, no jobs,” he said.

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