A continued torrent of consumer demand, paired with an emerging atmosphere of normalcy as coronavirus caseloads and health restrictions fade away, led to a burst of new jobs last month, giving reason for optimism despite the year’s increasingly uncertain economic outlook.
US employers added 431,000 jobs in March on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Friday. The figure was just shy of forecasts, and there was an upward revision of 95,000 for the previous two months of this year.
The unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 percent a month earlier and just a touch higher than its levels right before the pandemic.
Among the industries with gains were leisure and hospitality (112,000), retailing (49,000) and manufacturing (38,000).
Job openings and the number of workers voluntarily leaving their positions remain near record levels, among the measures showing that demand for workers is the highest in decades.
“It’s all about the virus, the virus, the virus — and the virus’s grip on the American psyche seems to have loosened and we may be moving toward the idea that ‘the Covid was’ of the US economy is done,” said Austan Goolsbee , professor at the University of Chicago and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama.
More urban office workers appear to be headed back to their desks, giving a boost to hard-hit downtown economies, and the drop in coronavirus cases has prompted many people to resume tourism and in-person entertainment.
The average gain for the last six months is 600,000. The economy has recovered more than 90 percent of the 22 million jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic’s impact on the economy in the spring of 2020 — a far swifter rebound than forecasters initially expected.
But while business growth, wage growth and high spending signal a robust recovery, price increases are casting a golden shadow. Inflation, the highest in decades, is being compounded by international events: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is pushing up commodity prices, and Covid-19 outbreaks at supply centers in Asia.
“For consumers, most of whom are either workers or reliant on so-called breadwinners, the state of the job market provides a solid underpinning for household finances,” said Mark Hamrick, the senior economic analyst at the financial website Bankrate.com. “These same households are being tested by inflation, which will flash further into the red with forthcoming readings, aggravated by impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” effectively serving as a tax on savings, which improved for many the pandemic.