Winter storm cut into hours for workers

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The harsh winter has been blamed for slumping retail sales, declining production and weakening home sales.

The White House noted Friday that the snowstorm in February that hit Southern states and the East Coast cut the full-time hours of 6.9 million workers in the U.S. to part time, or less than 35 hours a week. It was the biggest employment effect of any storm since a January snowstorm in 1996.

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, said another 600,000 people said they missed an entire week of work because of weather last month.

The unemployment rate, however, was not affected because the people who were missing work still had jobs, although their average weekly hours were affected, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February's unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 6.7 percent even as there was some welcome news that job creation had been better than most economists expected, coming in at 175,000 jobs.

Despite the mixed report, the unemployment situation has remained virtually unchanged for the past three months -- the rate was 6.6 percent in January and 6.7 percent in December.

Wall Street indexes were mixed for the day but essentially flat.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended the day at 16,452.72, up 30.83 points, or 0.19 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 was down to 1,878.04, losing 1.01 points, or 0.05 percent. The Nasdaq also was down to 4,336.22, losing 15.90 points, or 0.37 percent.

An economic measure known as the "real unemployment rate" was 12.6 percent. That measure includes people who are working part time because full-time work isn't available and those who dropped out of the labor force but still want a job. The 12.6 percent rate was the lowest it has been in more than five years but still remains well above any time from 1994, when the bureau started tracking the number, to 2008.

The number of people who have been out of work for six months or longer rose in the latest unemployment report by 203,000 to 3.8 million. Those long-term unemployed workers now make up 37 percent of the people who are unemployed, up from 35.8 percent last month.

It was one of the discouraging pieces of news in Friday's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last month, 41,000 workers were laid off, fired or saw an end to their temporary jobs. Another 45,000 people entered the workforce for the first time, and 60,000 people re-entered the workforce after stepping out of the labor market.

While job creation was better than expected and manufacturing gained 6,000 jobs, industry groups decried the slow growth in American manufacturing.

"Trivial gains in February and downward revisions for December and January show that the modest manufacturing recovery touted by President [Barack] Obama has completely stalled out," said Alan Tonelson, senior research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

He noted that manufacturing has now regained just 612,000 of the 2.3 million jobs that were lost since December 2007 at the start of the Great Recession.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing also decried the slow growth of manufacturing jobs and called for the president and Congress to invest in American jobs.

"Congress must step up and pass an infrastructure bill that allows us to not only repair what needs to be fixed but also to modernize our transportation hubs and systems. That will create construction and manufacturing jobs," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699. First Published March 7, 2014 8:58 AM

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