Unemployment remained at near-peak levels in March, with 15 million people, or 9.7 per cent of the labour force, out of work during the month, figures released by the Bureau of Labour Statistics today showed.

However the BLS report also said that non-farm payroll employment increased by 162,000 -- a large part of the addition to jobs coming from temporary help services (40,000 jobs) and health care (27,000 jobs). Employment in Federal Government also registered an increase, reflecting the hiring of temporary workers for the decennial Census 2010 (48,000 jobs). The report however said “Employment continued to decline in financial activities and in information.”

Observers noted that job-creation was at its best since March 2007, yet cautioned that this figure would have been lower if not for the temporary hires for the Census. They further said that the March numbers reflected a relative jump from February's lower figures, which “had been depressed by temporary job losses related to severe winter storms.”

According to Christina Romer, Chair of the administration’s Council of Economic Advisers, “It is obvious that the American labour market remains severely distressed. More than eight million Americans have lost their jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007. It will take sustained, robust employment growth to bring the unemployment rate down.”

Speaking to The Hindu Gary Burtless, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that a range of government stimulus-related policies, including $65 billion in aid to the unemployed, the financial markets rescues of 2008 and 2009, and ongoing fiscal relief to state governments had each played a role in supporting ordinary American households by shoring up their labour income, financial income and proprietor income, and offsetting the “huge loss” in their wealth due to falling housing prices.

Explaining the latest figures, Mr. Burtless also said, “The rise in the number of employed has been only slightly larger than the increase in the number of Americans in the labour market. This helps explain why the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high.” Nonetheless, it is an encouraging sign that people who were out of the labour force three or four months ago now believe it is worthwhile to look for a job, Mr. Burtless added.

According to the BLS report, among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (10.0 per cent), adult women (8.0 per cent), teenagers (26.1 per cent), whites (8.8 per cent), African-Americans (16.5 per cent), and Hispanics (12.6 per cent) showed little or no change in March. The jobless rate for Asians was 7.5 per cent, it added.

The Obama administration may worry, however, that the number of long-term unemployed – those jobless for 27 weeks or more – increased by 414,000 to 6.5 million. It may also be increasingly concerned about the structure of employment -- involuntary part-time workers, or those working part time but not by their own choosing increased to 9.1 million in March. Typically such workers work part-time for economic reasons, such as their hours being cut back or their inability to find a full-time job.

Further the February scenario of a large number of “marginally attached” individuals was seen again in March – around 2.3 million persons were not in the labour force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. Yet the BLS did not count such individuals as unemployed “because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks pre-ceding the survey.”

In the private sector, manufacturing employment showed an increasing trend, while construction, transportation and warehousing, leisure and hospitality, retail and wholesale trade held steady. Financial activities jobs continued their downward trend, shedding 21,000 jobs in March. Employment in the information industry decreased by 12,000, the report added.

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