Was March a Stronger Month for Jobs Than February?

Did labor market continue to improve in March? Last month, the private sector added 222,000 jobs -- the second most in a month since the recession began. That's still a modest number of additional jobs in terms how many the economy needs to significantly whittle down the unemployment rate. Although we won't get the official government jobs numbers for March until Friday, we have several early indicators to consider.

First, there's the other government jobs measure: unemployment claims. The news from the Labor Department has been mixed in March. The four-week average ending March 26th for initial unemployment claims actually increased slightly from average of the four weeks ending February 26th, by 1,750. That's a very small change and essentially means that initial claims have been about flat from February to March.

But continuing claims kept declining. The average number of continuing claims for unemployment insurance was 3.75 million -- down 127,167 for the three weeks ending March 19th, compared to the average of the four weeks ending February 26th. That's the biggest month-over-month decline since December. Of course, just because people aren't claiming unemployment doesn't mean they got a job. So this progress isn't a clear sign of job growth.

Next, ADP employment services continues to report (.pdf) that jobs are being added to the economy. The firm says private sector hiring added 201,000 positions in March, slightly worse than its tally of 208,000 for February. This is pretty much in line with the higher rate of job growth the company has reported since December. It should be noted, however, that government jobs have been declining recently.

A report on layoffs also modestly improved in March. Over the month, 41,528 jobs were cut, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas (.pdf). That's not a fantastic result, but it's quite a bit better than February's surprisingly high 50,702 cuts the company reported. Overall, the firm reports that the first quarter had the fewest layoffs of any quarter since 1995.

Finally, Gallup's polling shows that unemployment ticked down slightly in March. Although its jobless rate differs from the government's calculation, Gallup reports that the unemployment rate declined to 10.0% from 10.2% in February. Its calculation is not seasonally adjusted, however. So it's hard to determine what this would mean for the official number we'll get tomorrow. Still, it's certainly positive news that it found fewer Americans unemployed this month.

None of these reports look significantly worse than they did in February. They're all either a little bit better or essentially flat to what was seen last month. As a result, we might expect Friday's official report to closely resemble the one for February. If it does, then it will continue to indicate modest job growth, which will have trouble pushing down the stubbornly high unemployment rate significantly.