America’s jobs market slowed down last month, as companies stopped taking on new workers, revealing more uncertainty about the prospects for economic growth.
New figures show just 120,000 new jobs were created in March, down from 200,000 in each of the previous three months. Economists had expected the March figure to match that.
Retail employment was hit especially badly, and construction jobs also fell back slightly – after unseasonably warm weather at the start of the year provided an unexpected boost. The overall unemployment level fell to just over 8% – but experts said that was because fewer people were looking for jobs.
And, according to the Wall Street Journal, nine out of the ten most popular professions, which account for more than 20% of total jobs, make less than the national average wage.
President Obama welcomed the added jobs, but said there were still “ups and downs along the way” – and there was still a lot more work to do.
However the Republicans immediately seized on what they described as a disappointing trend, calling the figures “weak and very troubling”.
The likely Presidential nominee Mitt Romney stepped up the attack, claiming: “It is increasingly clear that the Obama economy is not working and that after three years in office, the President’s excuses have run out.”
Obama’s economic record, especially the unemployment rate, has been a central theme for the Republicans, who’ve accused the administration of failing to bring the country out of recession more quickly. Although unemployment has steadily dropped, it’s remained stubbornly above eight percent. And only one President since the second world war, Ronald Reagan in 1984, has managed to win re-election with a jobless rate of more than 6 per cent.
The director of the White House Economic Council, Gene Sperling, said that while there was still progress: “We’re coming back from the deepest recession and downturn in our economy in 80 or 90 years.”
Whether voters remember that at the ballot box in November, depends on showing the fragile recovery is still on track. They don’t use that word ‘hope’ like they used to, but a little of that would go a long way.
Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News.