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U.S. Jobs: Possible Pause in Economic Growth Coming

Although the consensus forecast in advance of Friday’s jobs report for February was around 180,000, the actual number from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was a shockingly low 20,000.

The U.S. economy is sending conflicting signals about employment.Talk about mixed signals: a miniscule jobs added number — the smallest gain since September 2017, according to NPR — falling unemployment (down to 3.8 percent from 4.0 percent last month), and rising wages (up 3.4 percent from February 2018, to an average $27.66 hourly rate).

 

What does it all mean? It could be, perhaps, that the economy is taking a short breather before tackling an upward slope once again. It could also be a sign that things are flattening out or slowing down a bit. Most pundits don’t think it’s a sign of an imminent drop-off, though.

 

NPR quotes the Economic Policy Insitute’s Heidi  Shierholz (a former chief economist at the Labor Department) saying, “One month does not make a trend. One reason for the February weakness was harsh weather, depressing job growth in construction, hotels, and restaurants.”

 

What Do the Numbers Say?

 

Ms. Shierholz’s assessment is born out by the February numbers. Construction took a tumble, losing 31,000 jobs, after adding 53,000 jobs in January. Hospitality was flat, following gains of 89,000 in January and 65,000 in December, with a trailing monthly average of just over 34,000 for the preceding 12-month period.

 

Other sectors showed continuing growth, including:

 

● +42,000 jobs in professional and business services, in keeping with the trend over the last year
● +21,000 jobs in healthcare, right in line with that same trend (+361,000 in the trailing 12-month period)
● +11,000 jobs in wholesale trade positions, slightly better than its trailing year average (+95,000 jobs over that period equals just under 8,000 monthly)
● +4,000 in manufacturing, about 18,000 less than its trailing year monthly average<
● Other major sectors were more or less flat: mining, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial services, and government

 

CompTIA and Its Job Tracker

 

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Services reports no growth for its information sector in its number, CompTIA has a more detailed and nuanced take on the IT sector. It reports that the U.S. tech sector added 7,500 jobs in February, with gains of 2,500 in computer, electronic, and semiconductor manufacturing employment; 2,400 in data processing, hosting, and related services; and 3,300 in technology services, custom software development, and computer systems design.

 

This was offset by a loss of 2,300 positions in telecommunications, to produce the afore-cited monthly growth number.

 

Next, let’s look at that 7,500 number in the context of total IT employment. CompTIA’s latest employment tracker shows IT sector employment at just over 4.6 million, and IT occupation employment at just under 5.4 million. Accept that rounding and we have total IT-related jobs at 10 million even.

 

7,500 jobs is 0.075 percent of that total, so hopefully, that explains why the U.S. BLS reported the information sector as “flat” for February. From their perspective, that’s not really a measurable change in the base. CompTIA, of course, tracks just the one sector, so they can’t help but do so more closely.

 

The Bottom Line

 

I’m encourage that unemployment dipped once again, while wages keep growing (albeit both slowly and modestly). Ultimately, that’s what supports my “taking a breather” interpretation. As always, of course, only time will tell. Stay tuned for next month’s thrilling follow-up!

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ed-tittel120Ed 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 Business News Daily, and on Windows desktop OS topics for TechTarget and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com.