The jobs creation figure for March announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday was as chilling as the weather has been relative to earlier U.S. economic performance.
Only 88,000 new jobs were added to the economy in March, compared to the 236,000 announced for February. The unemployment rate dropped from 7.7 percent to 7.6 percent, but that represented dropouts from the labor force, not increased employment. Youth unemployment, covering 18- to 29-year-olds, was a painful 11.7 percent.
Causes given were varied. Sequestration, which is beginning to reduce government and private employment as well as weigh on overall economic morale, was one factor, as was Washington's continued, visible inability to resolve the nation's problems because of partisan and structural gridlock.
The economic situation in the rest of the world also has an impact on America. Even though the Cyprus bank crisis is of almost no direct significance to the United States, the contortions that Europe and the eurozone are going through to resolve it does not present a pretty picture to Americans, duly suspicious of their own banks and bankers. Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is dumping bucketloads of yen into its economy in a desperate effort to jump-start it, even though one predictable result already is inflation. Italy, Europe's third-largest economy, still has no government six weeks after its elections.
On the positive side is the fact that auto sales in the United States increased by 3.4 percent in March, posting the highest total in five years. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all showed gains of 5 percent or more. Orders to American factories rose from January to February by 3 percent, according to the Department of Commerce. There is reason to believe that increases of this sort in the industries will result in new jobs on the employment front.
The weak March jobs figure showed how far the United States still has to go from recession to good health, but the stronger auto sales and factory orders probably constitute sightings of the first robins of an economic spring.