US Economy
US jobless rate falls to 5.5%; Broad rate at 11%; Participation rate at 1978 level
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Mar 6, 2015 - 2:49 PM

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Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers commented Friday: "The private sector has added 12.0 million jobs over 60 straight months of job growth, extending the longest streak on record. Today we learned that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 295,000 in February, largely due to a 288,000 increase in private-sector employment. Although private-sector job gains in December and January were revised down, the private employment gains over the past twelve months total 3.2 million—the largest 12-month increase since 1998."

US nonfarm payroll employment increased by 295,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down to 5.5% according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) Friday. Employment rose in food services and drinking places, professional and business services, construction, health care, and in transportation and warehousing. Mining employment fell over the month. Meanwhile the broad rate was at 11% and the labour-force participation rate —  the percentage of working-age persons in an economy who are employed or unemployed but looking for a job — fell to 62.8% in February from 62.9% in January. The figure is at the level it was at in March 1978 as an increasing number of women were joining the workforce — the BLS has tracked the participation rate since 1948 and since then it hit its historical peak in January through April 2000, when it was 67.3%.

Incorporating the revisions for December and January, which reduced nonfarm employment by 18,000 on net, monthly job gains have averaged 288,000 over the past 3 months. In the 12 months prior to February, employment growth averaged 266,000 per month.

Food services and drinking places added 59,000 jobs in February, compared with an average monthly gain of 35,000 over the prior 12 months.

Professional and business services employment increased by 51,000 in February. Employment continued to trend up in management and technical consulting services (+7,000), computer systems design and related services (+5,000), and architectural and engineering services (+5,000). Elsewhere in professional and business services, employment in temporary help services was little changed over the month.

Construction employment rose by 29,000 in February, about in line with job gains in the industry over the prior 12 months. In February, employment rose by 27,000 in specialty trade contractors, including a gain of 17,000 in the residential component.

Health care employment increased by 24,000 over the month, with job gains in ambulatory care services and in hospitals. Over the past 12 months, health care has added 356,000 jobs.

Transportation and warehousing employment rose by 19,000 in February. This job gain occurred mostly in couriers and messengers (+12,000).

In retail trade, employment continued to trend up over the month (+32,000). Over the past year, retailers have added 319,000 jobs.

Employment in manufacturing continued to trend up in February (+8,000). Within nondurable manufacturing, employment in petroleum and coal products fell by 6,000, largely due to a strike.

Employment in mining fell by 9,000 over the month, mostly in support activities for mining.

Average hourly earnings of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents in February to $24.78. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 48 cents, or 2.0%. From January 2014 to January 2015, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined by 0.2%.

Turning now to the survey of households, both the unemployment rate, at 5.5%, and the number of unemployed persons, at 8.7m, edged down in February. Both measures were down over the year, by 1.2 percentage points and 1.7m, respectively.

In February, the number of unemployed persons who had been jobless for 27 weeks or more was little changed at 2.7m. These individuals accounted for 31.1% of the total unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 1.1m.

The labour force participation rate was little changed at 62.8% in February and has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 to 62.9% since April 2014.

The employment-population ratio, at 59.3%, was unchanged in February. Over the year, the employment-population ratio is up by 0.5 percentage point.

In February, the number of people working part time for economic reasons was 6.6m, little changed over the month. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time work.

Among people who were neither working nor looking for work in February, 2.2m were classified as marginally attached to the labour force, little changed over the year. These individuals had not looked for work in the 4 weeks prior to the survey but wanted a job, were available for work, and had looked for a job within the last 12 months. The number of discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached who believed that no jobs were available for them, was 732,000 in February, also little changed over the year.

In summary, nonfarm payroll employment increased by 295,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down to 5.5%.


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