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216,000 More Jobs, U.S. Unemployment Rate Falls to 8.8%

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Jobs in March increased by 216,000 and the unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent from 9 percent in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. March is the third straight month the number of jobs has risen and the boost in jobs shows the jobs recovery “unmistakably gaining traction,” according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Health care employment continued to increase in March, adding 37,000 jobs. Throughout the recession, health care employment has increased, adding 283,000 jobs, an average of 24,000 jobs per month over the past year.

Employment in leisure and hospitality rose by 37,000 over the month, with more than two-thirds of the increase in food and beverage services (+27,000). Manufacturing employment continued to trend up in March by 17,000 jobs, and mining rose by 14,000.

The bad news—and it’s really bad news for both the workers and the working families who deserve quality public service—is that employment in local government has plummeted by 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008.

While the official unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, it’s 15.7 percent if unemployed, underemployed and those who have given up looking for work are included—more than 24 million people. The economy needs to add about 150,000 new jobs each month to keep up with the growth in the labor force.

But to lower the nation’s unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2013 and make up for the more than 7 million jobs lost due to the recession, the economy needs to add 350,000 jobs a month.

Young people and people of color continue to experience the worst jobless rates which have remained high, with 24.5 percent of teenagers out of work and 15.5 percent of black workers and 11.3 percent of Hispanics jobless.  Some 7.9 percent of white workers are jobless, as are 7.1 percent of Asian workers.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who this week joined Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue in backing the bipartisan America Fast Forward initiative, which would create 1 million jobs by improving the way transportation projects, said investing in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure is the most effective way to create good jobs.

The last thing our economy and our country need is cuts in public services that are political choices, not wise long-term budget and investment decisions. As we look to continue to create jobs and be globally competitive, now is the time—as President Obama has said—to invest in education, in technology and in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Yet focusing on the unemployment rate doesn’t give us the best understanding of the nation’s jobless rate, according to economist Alan Krueger. He thinks we get a better understanding of the nation’s jobless picture looking at the employment-to-population ratio, or the share of the population that is employed. This rate isn’t affected by whether someone is counted as in or out of the labor force.

Tellingly, the employment-to-population rate has hardly budged since reaching a low of 58.2 percent in December 2009. Last month it stood at just 58.4 percent. Even in the expansion from 2002 to 2007 the share of the population employed never reached the peak of 64.7 percent it attained before the March- November 2001 recession.

Last year, nearly one in eight families included an unemployed person, the highest proportion since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1994, writes Katherine Rampell at Economix.


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