Jobless rate holds steady at 6.7%

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The national unemployment rate stayed steady in March at 6.7 percent with employers adding 192,000 jobs, according to a report issued Friday that held better news behind the marquee numbers.

While there were 27,000 more people who were unemployed in March than there were in February, the labor force grew by 503,000, a sign that people who had given up looking for work are back in the hunt, according to figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many of them were successful.

Erica L. Groshen, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said in her statement to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress: "All of the net job growth in March occurred in the private sector, which now has exceeded its employment level in December 2007, when the most recent recession began."

During that recession, and for months afterward, the private sector lost 8.8 million jobs to hit its low point in February 2010. Since then, it has gained 8.9 million jobs. The numbers are seasonally adjusted to smooth out the spikes of holiday and vacation hiring and layoffs.

"However," Ms. Groshen said, "government employment is down since the recession began [by 535,000], and therefore total nonfarm employment remains [422,000] below its December 2007 level."

The good news of the employment report was in the details. The labor force grew, and -- even more telling -- the percentage of people who were actually working was higher than it has been in four and a half years at 58.9 percent.

There are still 3.7 million people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Those people, known as the long-term unemployed, are more than a third of the unemployed. Congress allowed the authorization for long-term unemployment compensation to expire in December, and now, according to an estimate released by the National Employment Law Project in New York City, 2.3 million people who would have been covered by the extension of unemployment insurance have been cut off.

Christine Owens, executive director of the organization, noted that the average job search is now 36 weeks, which is 10 weeks longer than the time for which state unemployment benefits are available.

Heidi Shierholz, at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., noted that layoffs -- while back to a pre-recession level of 1.7 million a month -- are now much more catastrophic.

"The consequences of getting laid off are way worse than they were before," she said, because it is so hard to find a job in the current market.

Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., said many of the workers who lost their jobs in the years after the recession officially ended were women who had government jobs.

"We recently took a look at employment in the 10 largest low-wage jobs -- jobs that pay $10.10 an hour or less," she said. "Women were 76 percent of all of the workers in those low wage jobs."

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


Ann Belser: 412-263-1699 or abelser@post-gazette.com. First Published April 4, 2014 8:52 AM

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