U.S. Jobs: Growth Slows, Unemployment Still Low
Sometimes, watching the ebb and flow of the monthly employment numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reminds me of plucking a daisy and playing the old "She loves me, She loves me not" game with its petals. You never know how it's going to turn out until you've destroyed a perfectly nice flower.
Last month's job numbers showed a significant reduction from a recent monthly average in the 200,000-to-220,000 jobs added range to a relatively paltry 103,000 jobs added for March 2018. That said, unemployment remains at a low, low 4.1 percent, the same level it's occupied for the past 6 months in a row now.
The two preceding months see-sawed, too. January was revised downward from 239,000 to 176,000, That's a reduction of 63,000 jobs for that month, which is the largest negative monthly adjustment I can ever recall seeing in the decade or more I've been writing about monthly job figures. February offset that loss somewhat with a gain of 13,000 jobs, from 313,000 to 326,000 for that month.
That puts the average job gain for the current three-month period at 202,000. While it's no big departure from the longer-term trailing average, the math required to produce that number is revealing: That three-month average combines (roughly) one number that is half the average, one number that is just below the average, and one number that is a bit more than 1.5 times the average. That's a lot of volatility, folks!
What CompTIA Has to Say on the Job Report
The top part of CompTIA's Employment Tracker for April 2018 also has some interesting up-and-down stories to tell. The total size of IT employment remains near a recent record high of around 9.9 million.
Source: CompTIA Employment Tracker (April 2018)
Yet while IT sector employment edged up in March, IT occupation employment edged down. This total is the sum of what CompTIA identifies as IT Sector Employment and IT Occupation Employment. IT Sector Employment basically refers to people who work in IT or IT-related technology firms (the IT industry), while IT Occupation Employment identifies people who work in other industries or market sectors (e.g. government) doing IT jobs.
Between what I see in the U.S. BLS numbers and the more narrowly-focused CompTIA tracking, it looks like jobs growth may be slowing down a bit. Could this be a "wait-and-see" pause while companies digest the impact of trade tariffs and the political and economic uncertainties they bring? Maybe.
Could this be a pause to take a breath before jumping up to a higher level of growth? That's certainly possible too. My best guess is that it's more likely to be the latter than the former, and that we'll see job numbers return closer to the longer term average in the 200,000-to-220,000 monthly range.
It's always a crapshoot, however, and I've been wrong before. We'll just have to wait and see. Stay tuned!