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US Hiring Slows in March But Unemployment Rate Dips

Students walk among recruiting booths during a career job fair at American University in Washington, March 28, 2012.
Students walk among recruiting booths during a career job fair at American University in Washington, March 28, 2012.

A new snapshot of the U.S. job market paints a mixed picture. The Labor Department says the economy added 120,000 jobs in March, down sharply from the previous months. Still, it was enough to bring the unemployment rate down to 8.2 percent.

American companies hired fewer workers in March but the nation's unemployment rate dipped slightly lower to 8.2 percent. Economists say that's because fewer people looked for work.

Despite the slowdown in hiring, President Barack Obama says overall job growth has been encouraging.

"Our economy's now created more than 4 million private sector jobs over the past two years and more than 600,000 in the past three months alone," he said. "But it's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way and that we've got a lot more work to do."


The weaker than expected job growth could hurt consumer confidence. It also threatens the president's re-election chances in November.  

Republican front runner Mitt Romney blames the president's economic policies for discouraging Americans from looking for work.

But there was little evidence of that at this job fair in Virginia.

Recruiter Kathleen Smith says there are plenty of opportunities for those willing to look for them.

"We're seeing some budgets shrinking but we're also seeing other budgets that are expanding, a lot in manufacturing," said Smith. "I'm also seeing that there are various customer service industries that are really ramping up their efforts."

Manufacturers hired 37,000 workers in March and hotels and restaurants hired 39,000. Retail stores took a big hit - eliminating 34,000 jobs, while temporary help firms cut more than 8,000 positions.

Some people see the tough economy as a temporary challenge.

Retired Air Force officer Paul Faraci has been out of work more than a year. He says he's used the time to improve his skills.

"You have to view your unemployment as just a speed bump in life, not a pothole, he said. "And you have to just pursue this further, remember that you are a unique person, you have a product to offer."    

Still, the job market remains difficult for many. Despite dropping nearly 2 percentage points since the height of the recession, the nation's unemployment rate has remained above 8 percent for three years. That's the longest stretch of high unemployment since the government started keeping records in 1948.

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