March Jobs Report: 916K New Jobs, Unemployment Rate Down to 6.0%

This morning's employment report for March showed a 916K increase in total nonfarm payrolls, which was above the forecast of 647K jobs added.

Here is an excerpt from the Employment Situation Summary released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 916,000 in March, and the unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. These improvements in the labor market reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Job growth was widespread in March, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction.

The unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent in March. The rate is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The number of unemployed persons, at 9.7 million, continued to trend down in March but is 4.0 million higher than in February 2020. (See table A-1. See the box note on page 5 for more information about how the household survey and its measures were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.)

Here is a snapshot of the monthly percent change in Nonfarm Employment since 2000. We've added a 12-month moving average to highlight the long-term trend.

PAYEMS Monthly Change

The unemployment peak for the last cycle was 10.0% in October 2009. The chart here shows the pattern of unemployment, recessions and the S&P Composite since 1948. Unemployment is usually a lagging indicator that moves inversely with equity prices (top series in the chart). Note the increasing peaks in unemployment in 1971, 1975 and 1982. The mirror relationship appears to repeat itself with the previous bear markets. The COVID-19 pandemic briefly showed the same type of relationship between equities and unemployment, though the impact was temporary and irrational exuberance took over once again.

Unemployment and the Market

Now let's take a look at the unemployment rate as a recession indicator or more specifically the cyclical troughs in the UR as a recession indicator. The next chart features a 12-month moving average of the UR with the troughs highlighted. As the inset table shows, the correlation between the MA troughs and recession starts is remarkably close.

Unemployment and Recessions

Here's another chart to illustrate the reality of the unemployment rate - the unemployment rate divided by the labor force participation rate.

The next chart shows the unemployment rate for the civilian population unemployed 27 weeks and over. This rate has fallen significantly since its 4.4% all-time peak in April 2010. It is now at 2.6%, unchanged from the previous month.

Unemployed 27+ Weeks