February Surprise: Job Growth Solidly Up, Unemployment Drops to 7.7%

Economists were surprised and investors pleased by the latest monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday that said 236,000 jobs were created in February. That helped drop the U.S. unemployment rate down to 7.7 percent.

Every survey conducted before the numbers were released by the U.S. Department of Labor had the average prediction showing between about 150,000 and 165,000 jobs added in February. Most also predicted that January’s 7.9 percent unemployment rate wouldn’t change.

ADP’s job count, prepared by Moody’s Analytics and released Wednesday, came the closest to today’s numbers, reporting 198,000 private sector jobs were created during the month.

Where the job growth came from

The private sector created 246,000 non-farm jobs, with the biggest gains coming in:

  • Constructionup 48,000 principally coming in the specialty construction trades;
  • Health care — up 32,000, with the gains coming in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and nursing and residential facilities;
  • Leisure and hospitality — up 24,000, with nearly all the gains coming from job growth in food services, bars and restaurants;
  • Retail — up 23,700, spread across a broad group of stores;
  • Temp — up 16,000.
  • Manufacturing – up 14,000.

Econ-indicators-Feb.2013The biggest growth — 73,000 new jobs — came in the Business and Professional Services category, a catchall that includes jobs in a broad range of industries and occupations including computers, janitorial, accounting, law, architecture, and the temp and employment services sector. Within this group, the biggest gains came from the temp industry and the hiring of accountants and bookkeepers, the likely result of tax season hires.

Government jobs drop slightly

Government job losses cut the total increase by 10,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the report, also revised its initial reports for January and December. January was reduced by 38,000 to a gain of 119,000 and December’s figure revised 23,000 jobs up to 219,000.

Forbes quoted Capital Economics chief U.S. economist Paul Ashworth telling investors that the report “isn’t a game changer,” though “it adds to the evidence from the upbeat ISM surveys released earlier this week that, despite the expiry of the payroll tax cut, higher gasoline prices, and government spending cuts, the recovery is gathering momentum.”

Another encouraging sign in the report prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the increase in the average workweek. It increased by .1 hour to 34.5 for all employees on non-farm payrolls. The manufacturing workweek also lengthened by .2 hours to 40.9, and factory overtime increased to n average of 3.4 hours. Lengthening work hours, and especially overtime, is considered an early indicator — if it continues — of job growth.

SHRM’s LINE report, issued yesterday, predicts that hiring will continue strong. Says the report: “In March, hiring rates will approach four-year highs for the month in both manufacturing and services.”

8 million part-timers still want full-time work

The LINE report, based on surveys of SHRM member recruiters, also says that recruiting will continue to be difficult for services industries, and a bit easier for manufacturers:

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A net of 8.5 percent of manufacturing respondents had more difficulty with recruiting in February. This is a decline of 9 points from February 2012. A net of 10.4 percent of service-sector HR professionals had more difficulty recruiting in February, an increase of 15.6 points from a year ago and the highest net level of recruiting difficulty in four years for the month of February.

The BLS report, meanwhile, suggests that the decline in the unemployment rate was helped both by the job growth and by a slight decline in the number of people declaring themselves to be in the workforce.

The ranks of the unemployed did decline between January and February; at 12 million, the number of unemployed is about .5 million less than a year ago, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Of those, 4.8 million have been out of work for more than half a year, a number little changed in the last few months, but .6 million fewer than a year ago.

In addition, another 8 million are working part time because they can’t find full-time jobs.

About the Author

John Zappe is contributing editor of ERE.net, and the former editor of the now closed Fordyce Letter. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. 

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him by clicking here.