March 2018 Employment Update

Continuing our ongoing coverage of the labor market, the release of the March Employment Situation by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment remains at 4.1% for the fourth month in a row, while the U-6 “underemployment” rate crept down another 0.2%.

January February March Jan-March

Change

U-3 Unemployment Rate 4.1% 4.1% 4.1% 0.0%
U-6 Unemployment Rate 8.2% 8.2% 8.0% -0.2%
Civilian Noninstitutional Population* 256,780 256,934 257,097 +317
Civilian Labor Force 161,115 161,921 161,763 +648
Employed 154,430 155,215 155,178 +748
Unemployed 6,684 6,706 6,585 -99
Employment-Population Ratio 60.1% 60.4% 60.4% +0.3%
Part-time for Economic Reasons 4,989 5,160 5,019 +20
Marginally Attached to Workforce 1,653 1,602 1,454 -199
  • Discouraged Workers
451 373 450 -1
* All numbers are in thousands, and are seasonally-adjusted

 

Very little has changed since February; while there was a significant drop in the number of marginally attached workers, that number bounces around a lot, so it’s unlikely to mean much on its own.  The underlying story continues to be that the Obama economy finished draining almost all slack out of the job market while Trump got control over the levers of power, and so far he hasn’t done anything to screw it up, but further improvements in employment would be difficult to achieve without dramatically expanding participation by populations such as the elderly, disabled, and students.  However, Trump’s incipient trade wars put this situation in peril. While it’s unlikely that there will be a sudden crash in employment, disruptions as workers transition between sectors could be expected to create in a slow rise in unemployment. In addition, stock market volatility triggered by Trump’s increasingly frequent tweets attacking corporations and trading partners may reflect increasing business uncertainty, which tends to undermine investment and hiring over time.

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