The economy continued to add jobs on the whole, but layoffs saw a sudden jump. Meanwhile, consumer credit grew but saw a stiff setback.
The U.S. economy added 235,000 non-farm jobs in February, putting the unemployment rate back at 4.7 percent, according to last week’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth categories included construction, private education, manufacturing, healthcare, and mining. All told, there were 7.5 million unemployed Americans for the month.
The number of Americans without a job for 27 weeks or longer — the so-called long-term unemployed — hovered at 1.8 million for the month, accounting for 23.8 percent of the unemployed population. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has decreased by 358,000.
The labor force participation rate for February (the percentage of employable Americans either employed or actively looking for work) saw little change at 63 percent.
February’s average hourly earnings for all employees grew by 6 cents to $26.09, following January’s 5-cent increase. Over the year, average hourly earnings have grown by 71 cents or 2.8 percent.
“It’s definitely a solid report,”, George Washington University Economist Tara Sinclair told the Washington Post. “This is the kind of number that the Federal Reserve was looking to receive before their meetings next week.”
Initial Jobless Claims
Turning to more recent employment news, layoffs saw a spike, with first-time claims for unemployment benefits filed by the newly unemployed during the week ending March 4 hitting 243,000, the Employment and Training Administration reported last week. This was a sizable jump of 20,000 claims over the preceding week’s total of 223,000. While job market watchers had expected an increase in initial claims, they had expected a smaller gain of 17,000 claims.
Still, initial jobless claims remained in safe territory. Last week’s report marked the 105th week of initial jobless claims totaling below 300,000 claims, a level that economists consider indicates a growing job market.
The four-week moving average — considered a more reliable measure of layoffs — notched up to 236,500 claims, a gain of 2,250 claims from the prior week’s average of 234,250.
Consumer borrowing grew by 2.8 percent during the month of January, to hit a total volume of $3.77 trillion, according to last week’s report from the Federal Reserve. The market had expected a $17 billion gain for the month, rather than January’s $8.8 billion increase. January’s tiny gain was the smallest increase for consumer credit in five years.
The big driver for the month’s growth was non-revolving debt, such as student or car loans, which grew 5.5 percent to hit a total of $2.77 trillion. Meanwhile, revolving debt, such as credit cards, fell by 4.6 percent in January, to a total of $995.1 billion, down from December 2016’s $998.9 billion. Some economists chalked up the drop in revolving debt to a post-holiday focus by consumers on paying down credit card balances after seasonal gift buying.