Trade, Weather or What?

Most of the official unemployment news for March was pretty good. Total nonfarm payroll employment edged up by 103,000 in March. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This followed what the BLS calls “a large gain in February” of 326,000 jobs. It wasn’t a great report, mostly because there was little year-over-year progress and the rate of hiring had slowed. But the WSJ tells us over the weekend that it was actually very bad. What’s more, the bad numbers can be blamed on Pres. Trump’s tariff campaign.

Does that mean manufacturing jobs were down in March? That’s what you would expect from a trade war. Nope. In fact, the BLS points to manufacturing as the brightest spot in March Employment in manufacturing rose by 22,000 in March, with all of the gain in the durable goods component. Employment in fabricated metal products (which should be hurt by the steel tariffs) increased over by 9,000 jobs.

So, what does the WSJ point to as proof of the havoc caused by the early stages of a worldwide trade war? A decline in construction jobs, because construction uses steel and tariffs bad. On NPR on Friday, economics reporter Cardiff Garcia said the employment report was actually better than it seems because the construction numbers were down, since that decline is easily attributable to unseasonal weather in March. This fellow can tell you all about that.

So, is it trade or the weather? Or was the decline just a predictable dip? Maybe that last one. In December, respondents to the Conference  Board reported that the number of consumers  expecting more jobs in the months ahead decreased, while those anticipating fewer jobs rose. There is some evidence that the Board’s survey is actually a pretty good predictor of employment. So maybe that’s it.


Last modified on Tuesday, 10 April 2018 12:48

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