Employers added just 88,000 jobs in March, according to the U.S. jobs report released Friday, hiring at the slowest pace since June 2012.
The number was a huge miss. Analysts expected a gain of 200,000.
"We all over shot it," Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in U.S. President Barack Obama's first administration, said on CNBC. "This is a punch to the gut. I mean, this is not a good number."
Since the government's way of calculating unemployment is frighteningly inaccurate, even with such a small amount of jobs added the unemployment rate fell from 7.7% to 7.6%.
That's because the labor force participation rate slipped from 63.5% to 63.3% -- the lowest level since 1979.
November U.S. Jobs Report: What to Expect
When the Department of Labor releases the November U.S. jobs report tomorrow (Friday), brace yourself for dismal news.
U.S. jobs growth most likely experienced a sharp slowdown last month as the late-October Superstorm Sandy interrupted economic activity.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls are forecast to show a gain of just 93,000 in November, down considerably from 171,000 in October.
Economists surveyed by CNNMoney are more pessimistic, calling for nonfarm payroll gains of 77,000 in November.
Barclays' outlook is even bleaker. The bank sees a gain of 50,000, which would push the jobless rate to 8.0% from 7.9%.
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Why the U.S. Jobs Report Could Be Much Worse than Expected
The September U.S. jobs report, the second to last before Election 2012, is expected to show 110,000 jobs added for the month - but there's a chance it could be much uglier.
First, the weekly initial jobless claims out today (Thursday) increased 4,000 to 367,000 for the week ended Sept. 29. Never a good lead in to a jobs report.
Second, the ADP jobs report released Wednesday showed the private sector added 162,000 jobs in September, less than the 189,000 added in August. ADP's report is often skewed to the upside compared to the government's employment numbers.
Data shows that between April and August, ADP estimated nearly 50,000 more private sector jobs were added per month than the government report (widely viewed as more accurate).
But in August, ADP's number overshot the government's by a hefty 98,000.
Equally disturbing is that the number of jobs being added (according to government figures) is nowhere near what is considered healthy. Just to keep up with population growth, our economy needs to add at least 125,000 jobs every month.
At that pace, it would take at least four more years for the U.S. job market to fully recover from the Great Recession.
"We're not going anywhere quickly in the jobs market," Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody's Analytics, Inc., told Bloomberg News. "The job market is just more of the same. Layoffs aren't the big problem, it's the lack of hiring."
The number of jobs employers added in August was an uninspiring 96,000, a steep decline from July's 141,000.
And while the unemployment rate eked down to 8.1% from 8.3% the previous month, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Many discouraged Americans have given up looking for a job. Plus, more young adults are prolonging their education in attempts to avert entering a very difficult job market.
And with the following factors, 2013 looks to get even worse.
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July's U.S. Jobs Report a "Hammer-Blow" to President Obama's Re-Election Bid
After three months of weak job creation, a better-than-expected reading in July's U.S. jobs report was welcome, but still isn't anything to get too excited about. Despite the encouraging job gains, the unemployment rate actually ticked up.
The Labor Department reported U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 163,000 jobs in July, better than the 95,000 economists had expected. But, in a separate survey of U.S. households, numbers revealed the unhealthy unemployment rate actually eked up, rising from 8.2% to 8.3%.
"Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families," GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in a statement.
With the November presidential election growing near, the jobs report carries massive political weight.
Not since World War II has an incumbent president attempted re-election with an employment rate over 8%. Since President Obama took office, the unemployment rate has remained elevated and above that key level.
And it's not likely to go down before November.
"We've now gone 42 consecutive months with the unemployment rate above 8 percent," Romney said in a statement. "Middle-class Americans deserve better, and I believe America can do better."
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How the Fiscal Cliff will Deal a Blow to U.S. Defense Industry
The fiscal cliff is taking down more than U.S. taxpayers - it will tear through the U.S. defense industry.
At the end of this year, current tax policies are set to expire and new ones will go into effect at the start of 2013. What Americans can expect if the policies are not extended is a painful combo of tax increases and spending cuts that will thrust the struggling U.S. economy back into a recession.
If U.S. lawmakers fail to act, scores of economists agree what we'll get is a $600 billion drag on the already sluggish economy. The tax implications have been widely discussed, but there has been little chatter about the impact on the defense sector, which stands to sorely suffer since it is subjected to half of the proposed spending cuts.
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June U.S. Jobs Report Ends Bleak Second Quarter
June's U.S. jobs report released today (Friday) deflated the brief celebratory mood that followed Thursday's upbeat employment data, and ended a second quarter packed with weak economic figures.
The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that employers added a skimpy 80,000 jobs in June, much less than analysts' estimates of 100,000-125,000. The jobless rate remains at an elevated 8.2%.
The fresh data concludes a dismal second quarter.
In the first quarter of 2012, the average number of monthly jobs created was 226,000. In the second quarter that average fell to a measly 75,000. While job gains in April and May deviated little from estimates, June's data was significantly lower than anticipated.
"Today's report is the rotten cherry atop the half-baked economic news of the last few months," TD Bank's Chris Jones said in a note.
Roughly one-third of the jobs added in June were in temporary services. Manufacturing added 11,000, marking its ninth straight month of gains, while growth in factory jobs dropped off sharply in the second quarter. Healthcare jobs grew by 13,000 and financial services added 5,000. Meanwhile, retailers, transportation firms, and the government slashed jobs.
Friday's lackluster report came on the heels of some encouraging data.
On Thursday, ADP's employment report showed that private employers added 176,000 jobs in June -- far exceeding economists' expectations of 95,000. Small businesses and service firms were responsible for most of the gains.
Another optimistic sign Thursday was the decline in the number of first-time applicants for jobless benefits. First-time claims dipped by 14,000 to 373,000, while the four-week average slid by 1,500 to 385,000.
Any optimism had faded Friday after the U.S. jobs report came out. The Dow Jones was down more than 180 points by noon.
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