Politics

March shows robust job gains but inflation stifles wage growth

The loosening of COVID-19 restrictions boosted the U.S. economy in March as unemployment declined to 3.6% and 431,000 new jobs were created, the Department of Labor announced Friday.

Although the number of jobs added was slightly less than the 490,000 that Wall Street analysts had forecast, the unemployment rate was slightly less than the expected 3.8%.

The numbers show that normalcy is returning to the U.S. job market as coronavirus cases drop along with mask mandates and other restrictions. 

So far, the U.S. economy has recuperated about 90% of the 22 million jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, a faster recovery than analysts had expected.

It is the 11th straight month that employers have added at least 400,000 jobs.

Friday’s announcement is mixed news for President Biden, who has been hammered by Republicans for his handling of the economy. Soaring gas prices and inflation at levels not seen in 40 years have sent his approval ratings plunging.

Although the job growth continues under his watch, inflation hit consumer spending, which increased only by 0.2% in February, down from a 2.7% increase in January, according to Commerce Department data.

Inflation also impacted salaries, reducing consumers’ spending power. Hourly pay dropped 2.6% in February, marking the 11th straight month in which inflation has outpaced wage growth, the Commerce Department said.

March’s job gains show Americans are ready to move past the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are booking plane tickets and hotels, dining out and traveling, which is also fueling a surge in demand adds to inflationary pressure.

The demand has also resulted in significant job gains in the leisure and hospitality industry.

The Leisure and hospitality sector gained 112,000 jobs in March with roughly of those jobs opening up in restaurants and bars, according to the Labor Department. Hotels added 25,000 jobs last month.

Despite the strong gains, overall leisure and hospitality employment is down by about 1.5 million jobs or 8.7% since February 2020, the last month before the pandemic hit.

The retail industry also showed gains as more Americans are willing to head out to the stores. Retailers added 49,000 jobs in March, with merchandise stores accounting for about 20,000 of those jobs. Food and beverage stores added 18,000 jobs last month.

Overall, the retail sector has added 278,000 more jobs than it did before the pandemic.

The number of teleworkers also dropped, a sign that the coronavirus’ impact is waning, the Labor Department said. Roughly 13% of the U.S. workforce telecommuted in February, down from 22.7% in February 2021.

• This article includes wires service reports.

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