Facebook Twitter

March jobs report hits ‘Goldilocks’ mark for Fed’s inflation fight

March job growth was solid but slowed enough to give the Fed a boost on the heels of its ninth straight interest rate hike

SHARE March jobs report hits ‘Goldilocks’ mark for Fed’s inflation fight
A “Now hiring!” sign is pictured on the door to Michaels in Salt Lake City.

A “Now hiring!” sign is pictured on the door to Michaels in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. The U.S. jobs market cooled in March, according to the Labor Department.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A sizzling U.S. job market showed just the right amount of cooling off in March with employers adding 236,000 new positions and unemployment ticking down to 3.5%, according to a Friday report from the Labor Department.

March gains stayed in the healthy zone but eased from the 326,000 jobs added in February and came in well below the 334,000 monthly average over the past six months. The new data will come as welcome news to an embattled Federal Reserve which has been fighting to quell inflation and cool off a U.S. economy that’s been mostly resilient to the Fed’s nine straight interest rate hikes over the past year.

March unemployment ticked down to 3.5% from February’s 3.6% but is still hovering close to January’s 3.4%, the lowest rate in over 50 years.

U.S. workers continued to see wage growth, but at a rate that shows some slowing from last year’s pace. Average hourly earnings were up 0.3% in March, pushing the hourly rate for private non-farm employees up 9 cents to $33.18 per hour. That rate is up 4.2% from the same time last year.

“Today’s report is a Goldilocks report,” Daniel Zhao, lead economist at Glassdoor, told The Associated Press. “It’s hard to find a way it could have been better. We do see that the job market is cooling, but it’s still resilient.’’

In another sign that might reassure the Fed’s inflation fighters, a substantial 480,000 Americans began looking for work in March, per AP. Typically, the bigger the supply of job seekers, the less pressure employers feel to raise wages. The result can be an easing of inflation pressures.

Interest rate adjustments are the primary tool wielded by the Fed in chasing its dual mandate of maintaining maximum employment and price stability. But its series of rate hikes over the last year were one of the factors hurting Silicon Valley Bank, which earlier this month became the second-biggest U.S. bank failure in history. Bonds owned by it and other banks have seen their prices fall as interest rates rose sharply.

Some economists predicted the monetary body could push a more aggressive 0.5% hike at its March meeting, in the face of economic data showing ongoing price increases and a red-hot labor market. But that was before upheaval spread throughout the banking industry earlier this month following the failures of first Silicon Valley Bank and, a few days later, Signature Bank.

During a press conference following the conclusion of its meeting late last month, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said the decision to move its rate up again was driven by January and February economic data reflecting persistent price increases and a labor market that continues to see job openings outpacing available workers by an almost 2-to-1 margin. Powell also noted that expected credit tightening in the banking sector “means that monetary policy may have less work to do” in cooling down consumer spending.

The most recent reporting from the Department of Labor report found year-over-year inflation dropped to 6% in February, down from January’s 6.4% rate and the smallest annual price increase since September 2021. While price increases on goods and services showed easing on an annual basis, they still inched up 0.4% over January, according to the report.

The increasing cost of shelter was a primary driver behind the month-over-month increase, according to the department, while price hikes on food and recreation also contributed.

The Mountain West region, which includes Utah, continued to see the highest inflation rates in the country in February. Annual inflation came in at 6.7% for the region that month.