The US job market took a breather in March after its best hiring stretch since the Great Recession.
Employers added 120,000 jobs last month—half the December-February pace and well short of the 210,000 economists were expecting. The unemployment rate fell from 8.3 per cent in February to 8.2 per cent, the lowest since January 2009.
But the rate dropped largely because many Americans stopped looking for work. The government counts only people who are unemployed and looking for a job, not those who have given up their job search.
The good news: Few economists expect hiring to fizzle in spring and summer, as it did the past two years.
"There is nothing in the fundamentals that would justify this big of a decline" in job growth, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute.
Added Paul Ashworth, chief US economist with Capital Economics: "We don't think this is the start of another spring dip in labour market conditions."
Ashworth and other economists are blaming the weather for the disappointing numbers released Friday by the Labor Department. A warm January and February allowed companies to hire workers for outdoor jobs a few weeks earlier than usual, effectively stealing jobs from March. It partially explains a 34,000-job drop in retail hiring and a 7,000 drop in construction jobs.
"Our winter didn't really exist," said Alan Amdahl, who runs his own construction company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota "It's just incredible. People didn't hibernate."
Economists also say the numbers can bounce around from month to month. Consistently creating 200,000 jobs a month is tough.