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US adds 431,000 jobs in sign of economic health

AP – America’s employers extended a streak of robust hiring in March, adding 431,000 jobs in a sign of the economy’s resilience in the face of a still-destructive pandemic, Russia’s war against Ukraine and the highest inflation in 40 years.

The government’s report on Friday showed that last month’s job growth helped shrink the unemployment rate to 3.6 per cent. That’s the lowest rate since the pandemic erupted two years ago and just above the half-century low of 3.5 per cent that was reached two years ago.

Despite the inflation surge, persistent supply bottlenecks, damage from COVID-19 and now a war in Europe, employers have added at least 400,000 jobs for 11 straight months. In its report, the government also sharply revised up its estimate of hiring in January and February by a combined 95,000 jobs.

The job growth in March, though solid, was the lowest since September and slightly below what economists had expected. Still, chief economist at Dreyfus and Mellon Vincent Reinhart said the numbers show that “the United States (US) economy continues to have underlying momentum and that firms are taking workers when they can”.

The March report sketched a bright picture of the job market, with steady hiring and rising wages. Average hourly pay has risen a strong 5.6 per cent over the past 12 months, welcome news for employees across the economy. For leisure and hospitality workers, including people who work in hotels, restaurants and bars, average pay has jumped 11.8 per cent from a year earlier – “a clear sign that employers are desperate for staff”, said president of One Fair Wage Saru Jayaraman, which advocates for better pay and conditions for service employees. For most workers, though, pay raises aren’t keeping up with the spike in inflation that has put the Federal Reserve on track to raise rates multiple times, perhaps aggressively, in the coming months.

Those rate hikes will result in costlier loans for many consumers and businesses. In the meantime, worker pay raises, a response in many cases to labour shortages, are themselves feeding the economy’s inflation pressures.

The steady job growth has failed to buoy President Joe Biden’s flagging popularity, with the gains overshadowed in the public’s mind by chronically high inflation. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine driving oil and gasoline prices higher, Biden has announced plans to release a million barrels of oil daily from the US strategic reserve for the next six months.

Since the pandemic struck in 2020, many Americans have remained on the sidelines of the job market, a trend that has contributed to the worker shortage in many industries. But in an encouraging sign for the economy, 418,000 people began looking for a job in March, and many found one. Over the past year, 3.8 million people have rejoined the labour force, meaning they now either have a job or are looking for one.

A ‘now hiring’ sign is posted in Garnet Valley. PHOTO: AP
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