US hiring slows amid uncertainty about economy

By Paul Wiseman

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 9:41 a.m. MDT

Hiring was slightly better in January and February than first reported. The government revised up job growth in those months by 4,000.

Hourly wages rose 5 cents to an average $23.39. The average workweek, though, fell slightly to 34.5 hours in March.

Obama's re-election hopes may depend on continued improvement in the unemployment rate and job creation.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican challenger, this week blamed the president's policies for slow growth and high unemployment.

The Obama campaign has said that Romney would reinstate policies that led to the recession — lower taxes for the wealthy and less regulation for business.

For many, what matters most is the unemployment rate. It was 7.8 percent when Obama entered office in January 2009 and peaked at 10 percent nine months later. Since August, it has dropped from 9.1 percent to March's 8.2 percent.

No incumbent since World War II has faced voters with unemployment higher than 7.8 percent.

Other data suggest the economic recovery is gaining strength. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to a four-year low, the government said Thursday. Consumers are more confident and spending more.

The service sector expanded at a healthy clip in March. Factories are busier. Companies are ordering more machinery and other equipment.

Still, economists have worried that job growth couldn't sustain the strong December-February pace without stronger economic growth.

And a spike in gasoline prices could discourage force consumers to cut spending on appliances, vacations and home improvements — big purchases that drive growth.

Most economists expect annual growth this year of just 2.5 percent. Normally, it takes annual growth of 4 percent to lower the unemployment rate 1 percentage point over a year.

The job market is improving largely because the pace of layoffs has fallen sharply. The staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported Thursday that planned layoffs fell 27 percent from February to March. Hiring, meanwhile, is still running nearly 20 percent below pre-recession levels.

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