U.S. Job Gains Tumble in February

The U.S. economy added just 20,000 jobs in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While still positive to continue a streak of gains lasting for 101 consecutive months, the February monthly job gain for the U.S. was the smallest seen in over a year. Occasional dips or blips can occur in the monthly job gain figures, and February’s may have been at least partially due to hiring uncertainty because of January’s government shutdown. Despite the dip, the 12-month average for monthly job gains still exceeded 200,000 jobs per month.

Even with the recent tumble in job gains, the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 3.8% in February, a bit behind the 4% showing from January and the 4.1% rate from February 2018.

Average hourly earnings growth for all employees topped 3% for the seventh consecutive month in February, coming in at 3.4%, the highest it has been since April 2009. The monthly gain between January and February was a strong 0.4%, increasing $0.11 for the month. Annually, wages increased $0.91, to $27.66.

More than 2.5 million jobs were added in the 12 months ending in February 2019, compared to less than 2.3 million for the same period ending in February 2018. This annual growth expanded the job base by 1.7%, equal to the average annual growth rate for the preceding 12 months. Revisions to the previous two months’ numbers resulted in 12,000 more jobs than initially reported, as December’s job gain figure was revised from 222,000 jobs to 227,000 jobs, and January’s gains were revised from 304,000 to 311,000 positions.

The civilian labor force participation rate held steady from January at 63.2%, but was up 20 basis points (bps) from last year. The employment-population ratio of 60.7% was also unchanged from last month, but up 30 bps from February 2018. The total number of unemployed (6.2 million) is down more than 450,000 for the year. All of these metrics point to an economy that keeps chugging along, but shows signs of slowing or plateauing growth.

The number of job leavers totaled 840,000 in February, an increase of 56,000 from February 2018. Job leavers are workers who quit or voluntarily leave their previous job and immediately began looking for new employment. The number of part-time workers for economic reasons (4.31 million in February) fell by 805,000 people from February 2018, but the number of part-time workers for non-economic reasons essentially held steady at about 21.1 million. The U6 unemployment rate, which includes part-timers for economic reasons and marginally attached workers, dropped from 8.1% in January to 7.3% in February, its lowest level since March 2001.

The number of long-term unemployed workers (out of work for 27 weeks or more) increased slightly from January (by 19,000) to 1.27 million, but was 132,000 workers less than the February 2018 figure, on a seasonally adjusted basis. The number of multiple jobholders decreased by 280,000 year-over-year to stand at 7.8 million. Meanwhile, the number of discouraged workers not in the workforce (428,000) increased by 55,000 from one year ago.

Industry Focus

Seasonally adjusted industry job gains for February paint an interesting picture. Outside of one strong positive – Professional and Business Services, which gained 42,000 jobs – and one strong negative – Construction, which lost 31,000 positions – all other industries were essentially flat for the month.

• The Professional and Business Services supersector’s gain in February of 42,000 jobs was spread almost evenly between the higher-paying professional and technical services sector (+22,000 jobs), and the administrative and waste services sector (+16,100 positions). Services to buildings and dwellings accounted for 9,400 of the latter sector’s gains.

• The Financial Activities industry’s net gain of 6,000 jobs came primarily from the insurance carriers subsector (+4,700 positions), with the real estate and rental and leasing sector adding another 1,300 jobs.

• The Manufacturing industry eked out a monthly gain of 4,000 jobs in February as durable goods manufacturing continued to add jobs, particularly in transportation equipment (+3,500) and machinery (+3,000), offsetting losses in nonmetallic mineral products (-3,300) and fabricated metal products (-2,900). Nondurable goods manufacturing lost 1,000 jobs for the month.

• The Education and Health Services industry’s meager job gains in February (+4,000) were also the result of one subsector’s strong gains (health care and social assistance with +22,500) offsetting losses in another subsector (educational services with -18,700). Doctors, Dentists and home healthcare workers accounted for half of the health care industry’s gains for the month.

• Personal and laundry services (+7,100) boosted monthly job gains for the Other Services sector, as losses in the membership associations and organizations (-2,700) and repair and maintenance (-1,400) subsectors, led to a net gain of only 3,000 jobs in February.

• The Trade, Transportation and Utilities supersector’s 2,000 jobs added in February were the result of a strong showing in wholesale trade (+10,900) undercut by losses in retail trade (-6,100) and transportation and warehousing (-3,000). Health and personal care stores contracted by 11,700 jobs in February.

• The Leisure and Hospitality industry was a net zero for the month with accommodation and food services (+3,700) balanced by losses in arts, entertainment and recreation (-3,500).

• The Information industry was also a net zero for job gains in February with the motion picture and sound recording industry losing 2,400 positions, cancelling the data processing sector’s 2,400 job gain.

• The Government sector lost 5,000 jobs in February exclusively at the state and local levels, as the furloughed Federal employees were counted as employed during the government shutdown.

• Support activities for mining (-3,800) accounted for most of the 5,000 job monthly loss in the Mining and Logging industry. Logging lost 1,900 jobs for the month.

• Bad weather in February can only partly explain the sudden and sharp job losses in the Construction industry for the month (-31,000). All subsectors saw losses, with the most severe cuts occurring in specialty trade contractors (-13,500) and heavy and civil engineering construction (-13,200).