New Monthly Jobs Report: U.S. Added 216,000 to Payrolls

Unemployment's down to 8.8 percent, the lowest level in two years

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The Labor Department's monthly jobs report was released this morning. It shows that nonfarm payrolls rose by 216,000 as the private sector added some 230,000 jobs in the month of March. The report also indicates that unemployment fell to 8.8 percent, its lowest level in two years.

The payroll number slightly exceeds expectations: Wall Street analysts predicted that figure would come in between 185,000 and 195,000.

Friday's numbers are the latest in a series of positive indicators for the economy. Last month's employment report was also taken as encouraging, and early March also brought the news that jobless claims had hit their lowest point since 2008.

Diving into the data a bit, it looks like manufacturing added 17,000 jobs in March, while education and health services added 45,000. Government employment, on the other hand, fell by 14,000 jobs, news that probably won't upset the Tea Party and other opponents of big government.

Some findings from the report are less than promising. Wages, which had been climbing gradually, seem to have plateaued for the moment. And the average duration of employment has gone up, from 37.1 weeks to 39 weeks.

Still, stocks are heading higher this morning in response to the report. Lakshman Achuthan of the Economic Cycle Reaearch Institute told CNN that we're seeing the market get more confident.

"The revival in U.S. economic growth is resilient enough to withstand the shocks that we've been hit with like higher oil prices and concerns out of Japan," said Achuthan. "Even if something new came along, it wouldn't necessarily just tank the economy."

Here's a look at how the data is being read, spun, and interpreted this morning:

The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen points out that "the 230,000 total not only expectations, it's a genuinely good number. We're accustomed to dealing with relative encouragement -- results that are only heartening because of the larger, awful context. But a month in which 230,000 private-sector jobs were created is actually quite strong regardless of context." Still, he notes, the 14,000 lost government jobs "could have been saved were it not for conservative fiscal policies."

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein sounds a note of caution, writing that "at this rate, getting back to the 5 percent unemployment rate we saw in early 2008 will take us till 2018. By any measure, that's too long." Still, he acknowledges, between the Middle East and Japan it's been a rocky few months, and yet "the recovery is grinding along, absorbing bad news with relative calm and uncertainty with relative ease."

But that might change, points out Phil Izzo at The Wall Street Journal. Izzo notes that "the jobs report is a lagging indicator, and some of the issues that have led economists to scale back growth forecasts for this year aren't yet reflected in this report. One potential area of difficulty is disruptions in manufacturing supply chains caused by the Japanese earthquake, the ripple effects of which might not be felt for weeks or months."

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman at The New York Times charts out the employment-population ratio--where a significant decline since 2008 is evident--and simply adds, "We need much more than this."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.