The hiring wave likely continued last month in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has unsettled the economic outlook and catapulted gasoline prices to painful levels.
The U.S. economy is expected to have added 490,000 new nonfarm jobs in March. That follows a much larger than expected gain of 678,000 in February. The unemployment rate is anticipated to slip to 3.7%, down from 3.8% the prior month and the lowest since February 2020.
Defying a coronavirus pandemic and supply chain disruptions, the U.S. economy has cranked out more than 400,000 jobs every month for nearly a year.
The payroll processing company ADP reported this week that U.S. companies hired employees at a healthy clip in March. Private payrolls increased by 455,000 jobs in March, slightly above the 450,000 gain that economists surveyed by Refinitiv had predicted.
The job market has rebounded from the devastating coronavirus recession, which wiped out 22 million jobs in March and April 2020 as businesses shut down or cut hours and Americans stayed home to avoid infection.
It’s unclear whether the economy can maintain the momentum of the past year. The government relief checks are gone. The Fed raised its benchmark short-term interest rate two weeks ago and will likely keep raising it well into next year. Those rate hikes will result in more expensive loans for many consumers and businesses.
Inflation has also eroded consumers’ spending power: Hourly pay, adjusted for higher consumer prices, fell 2.6% in February from a year earlier — the 11th straight month in which inflation has outpaced year-over-year wage growth. According to AAA, average gasoline prices, at $4.23 a gallon, are up a dizzying 47% from a year ago.
Employers posted a near record 11.3 million positions in February. Nearly 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs, a sign of confidence that they could find something better.
Brighter job prospects are beginning to draw back into the labor force people who had remained on the sidelines because of health concerns, difficulty finding or affording daycare, generous unemployment benefits that have now expired or other reasons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.