U.S. Jobs: March Numbers Continue Steady Growth Trend

The U.S. economy is contracting, but at a safe pace.

In what looks like a slow but steady decline over the past quarter, the March 2023 jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics features 236,000 jobs added and an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent. While labor economists have been expecting growth numbers to drop faster, this level of job growth shows a fundamentally strong economy with low unemployment figures to match.

Upward employment trends continue in the following sectors: leisure and hospitality, government, professional and business services, and healthcare. January's numbers dropped by 32,000 from 504,000 to 472,000, while February made up nearly half that difference, up by 15,000 from 311,000 to 326,000 (the three-month trailing average is 344,000, so the downward trend is pretty obvious).

Where's the Growth, Man?

Given that the growth sectors for March reads something like a list of the "usual suspects," let's take a look at where those jobs popped up in more detail. Here's a top-line summary of what's what for March 2023:

The U.S. economy is contracting, but at a safe pace.

Leisure and hospitality jobs grew by 72,000, down 23,000 from the six-month trailing average of 95,000. Food services and drinking places accounted for 50,000 of the March number. Even so, this sector is still down by 368,000 jobs (2.2 percent) from February 2020 levels, pre-pandemic. It keeps getting closer but hasn’t reached parity yet.

Government added 47,000 jobs, equal to the six-month trailing average. This sector is also down from February 2020 levels: 314,000 jobs (1.4 percent).

Professional and business services increased by 39,000 jobs, 5,000 over the six-month trailing average. Professional, scientific and technical services accounted for most of that gain (26,000).

Healthcare grew by 34,000 jobs, 20,000 lower than the six-month trailing average. Home healthcare services clocked 15,000 of that number, with hospitals turning in another 11,000 of the total. Jobs are also up in nursing and residential care facilities (by 8,000).

Social assistance added 17,000 jobs, 5,000 below the six-month trailing average.

Transportation and warehousing bumped up by a modest 10,000 jobs, mostly from gains in couriers and messengers (7,000) and air transportation (6,000), offset by losses in warehousing and storage (-12,000). This sector has been flat for some while now.

Retail trade dropped by 15,000 jobs, little changed over the past year. Building materials and garden supplied dropped 9,000 jobs, as did furniture, home furnishings, electronics and appliance retailers. Department store jobs increased by 15,000 jobs for the month, to offset most of those losses.

Other major sectors — mining, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, information, financial activities, and other services — remained mostly unchanged, as they have over the past 15 months or so.

What About Wages, In Inflationary Times?

The U.S. economy is contracting, but at a safe pace.

Average hourly wages were up $0.09 (0.3 percent) to $33.18. While inflation remains at or slightly over 5 percent, wages have grown by only 4.2 percent over the past 12 months. There’s still some room for pay to catch up with the costs of living, even as employment continues its slow grinding path downward from its 2022 peak levels between 8 and 9 percent.

All this said, an increasing number of workers (more than 20 percent, less than 30 percent) is considering a job change in the name of a bigger paycheck. Employers should probably start worrying about retaining their IT and technical staffs, but so far don’t seem overly stressed on that front. This could change ...

Other Sources, Other Voices

The Washington Post (WAPO) noted the decline in jobs added but opened its April 7 story thus glowingly: "U.S. payrolls rose at a firm pace last month with the unemployment rate dropping again near record lows ... "

The story also mentioned a slowing increase in wage growth, but sees the jobs market as "a picture of resilient labor demand that is particularly remarkable as other parts of the economy slow." I concur, for what it's worth, with their overall analysis, which seems to foresee a cooling but not moribund jobs market in the months to come.

Likewise, CompTIA's headline take sums up things in more or less the same vein: "Tech employment solid amid signs of labor market cooling ..." They report increasing overall technology employment, and "a higher volume of employer tech job posting," as evidence of a stable labor situation in tech jobs outside the tech industry, and in all jobs within the tech industry itself.

Total March postings grew by nearly 25 percent (up 76,000) to a total of just under 316,000, and CompTIA's analysis indicates that tech employment "across all industry sectors grew by an estimated 197,000 positions for the month." Interestingly, they also report a tech unemployment rate of 2.2 percent, just about two-thirds the overall 3.5 percent unemployment rate.

The U.S. economy is contracting, but at a safe pace.

If anything, CompTIA's narrower focus on the IT segments of the job market make them a bit more bullish than WAPO comes across in its coverage. The lower unemployment rate in tech neatly explains that, because employers are rather more interested in finding new talent, and keeping existing talent, than is the overall job market.

Highly sought-after positions include "IT support specialists, systems engineers and analysts, IT project managers, and cybersecurity analysts and engineers," of which 20 percent of positions are for remote or hybrid work situations.

One Wonders Where We’re Headed

Methinks things are stable if slowing down in the job market. IT seems to have a rosier-than-average outlook, in fact. It will be interesting to see if (and how) job churn affects the quality of service at IT companies, and within other organizations for IT services, as the inevitable upcoming round of job hopping starts to shake things up. Stay tuned, and I’ll keep you posted.

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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.