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The streak is over. After twelve consecutive months of 200,000-plus jobs gains — the longest run since 1994 — the US economy added just 126,000 jobs in March, according to the Labor Department. That’s about half what Wall Street was looking for. Even worse, jobs gains for January and February were revised lower by a combined 69,000. So far this year, monthly jobs gains have averaged just 197,000 vs. 324,000 for the final three months of last year and 260,000 for all of 2014. “March US employment lays an egg” is how Barclays bank put it.
Sure, the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5%, while the broader U-6 unemployment/underemployment measure fell to 10.9%, from 11.0%. Then again, you can thank a 95,000 drop in the labor force for that. Also, no progress on the employment rate, which stayed steady, or the labor force participation rate, which dipped a bit. And same-old, same-old on wages. Although average hourly earnings of private-sector workers rose 0.3% in March from February, to $24.86, growth over the past year is still just a meager 2.1%. Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers were up 0.2% and 1.8% over the past year. Meanwhile, look for first-quarter GDP growth beginning with a “1” or a “0.”
If you are a believer in secular stagnation, 2015 has been a year of affirmation so far. Over at Politico, ace reporter Ben White explores whether an economic downshift could “seriously complicate matters for Obama’s would-be successor, Hillary Clinton, who could wind up squaring off against a GOP opponent promising — fairly or not —an end to the desultory growth rates of the Obama years.” And Democrats surely don’t like headlines like this one from Yahoo News: “Except for rich, Americans’ incomes fell last year.” As I see it, 2016 will revolve around voters answering “Will you be better off eight years from now?” rather than “Are you better off than eight years ago?”