The American economy added 142,000 new jobs in March, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at an anemic 52,000. The headline unemployment rate ticked down to 6.1 percent, but that’s mostly because of rounding. The real decline was about one-twentieth of a point, from 6.19 percent to 6.14 percent.
What’s worse, even that tiny drop was illusory: the number of employed people in August was virtually the same as in July. The drop in the unemployment rate was due entirely to the fact that 268,000 people dropped out of the labor force. The labor force participation rate dropped from 62.9 percent to 62.8 percent, and that’s what caused the “drop” in unemployment.
It’s not wise to get too depressed over a single month’s bad numbers, just as it’s not wise to get too excited over a single month’s good numbers. Still, it’s discouraging to see even the modest gains of the past half year grind to a complete, jarring halt. For all practical purposes, the economy failed to improve even a smidgen last month. For the time being, we’re back to treading water.