US job market takes a break after hiring binge

By Paul Wiseman

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"It's like the floodgates are opening," says CEO and co-founder Joyce Kling. "There's an energy to our day now. We see a lot of leads floating through."

— IdeaPaint, a company that makes washable paint that people can use erasable markers on, has hired seven workers in the last three months. Sales have risen sharply and are expected to keep rising. So the Ashland, Mass.-based company has more plans to hire — it has 31 employees now and expects to have 40 at the end of the year.

"We just had a board meeting yesterday and agreed to become more aggressive with our hiring, with our advertising, with our investment spending. We're very confident," CEO Bob Munroe said.

The unemployment rate has dropped from 9.1 percent last August to 8.2 percent last month, the lowest since Obama's first month in the White House.

Each month, the government does one survey to learn how many jobs were created and another survey to determine the unemployment rate. Those surveys can produce results that sometimes seem to conflict.

One is called the payroll survey. It asks mostly large companies and government agencies how many people they employed during the month. This survey produces the number of jobs gained or lost.

The other is the household survey. Government workers ask whether the adults in a household have a job. Those who don't are asked whether they're looking for one. If they are, they're considered unemployed. If they aren't, they're not considered in the work force and aren't counted as unemployed. The household survey produces each month's unemployment rate.

Unlike the payroll survey, the household survey captures farm workers, the self-employed and people who work for new companies. It also provides a better snapshot of hiring by small businesses.

In March, the household survey showed that the number of people who say they have a job fell by 31,000 and that a significantly larger number of people — 79,000 — stopped looking for a job. That is why the unemployment rate dipped.

Some economists, most notably Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, say the job market faces bigger problems than unseasonably warm weather and month-to-month volatility in the employment numbers. They say the economy isn't growing fast enough to sustain strong job growth and to push the unemployment rate down rapidly.

The economy is expected to grow 2 percent to 2.5 percent this year. Chris Jones, of TD Economics, says that is not fast enough for sustain the monthly average of 245,000 jobs created from December through February. He expects the economy to average 200,000 new jobs a month in the April-June quarter and then to pick up speed.

"The last few months of aggressive employment growth were inconsistent with underlying economic fundamentals," Jones said. "March's number, while still weak, actually makes sense."

Associated Press writers Tom Krisher in Detroit, Christopher S. Rugaber and Derek Kravitz in Washington, and Joyce M. Rosenberg and Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this report.

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