Updated April 5, 2013, 7:11 p.m. ET
Job Growth Slows to a Trickle
Unemployment Rate Falls One-Tenth of a Percentage Point to 7.6%
By BRENDA CRONIN
Employers added fewer jobs in March than in any month in almost a year, a dark cloud after several months of slowly improving conditions in labor markets.
Just 88,000 jobs were created last month, far below February's 268,000 gain. The unemployment rate, derived from a separate survey, dropped to a four-year low of 7.6%. But the decline was prompted by nearly a half-million workers leaving the job market, not job growth.
Friday's report from the Labor Department pushed investors out of stocks and into safer alternatives. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 172 points minutes after the report was released, but erased most of its losses to finish down 40.86 points, or 0.28%, to 14565.25. Demand for the perceived safety of U.S. Treasury bonds was strong, however, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year note down to 1.698%, its lowest this year.
The report is likely to mute talk—which had grown louder recently—that the Federal Reserve might move to curtail the pace of its bond buying, which is aimed at lowering long-term interest rates in an effort to spur spending, investment and hiring.
Fed officials have said they would buy long-term Treasury and mortgage bonds until the job-market outlook has improved substantially. One Fed official this week raised the possibility of a job market strong enough by summer for the central bank to begin pulling back from the program. But the March picture could raise doubts inside the Fed about how quickly the job market is healing and deflate that possibility.
The March reading stirred some fears of yet another "springtime swoon" for the labor market. In recent years, hiring has started the year strong, only to wilt as the weather warmed.
Friday's report underscored this point, as the government revised up its estimates for January and February by a combined 61,000 jobs. Even with those revisions, however, job growth started 2013 weaker than in the same period a year ago, suggesting the pace of hiring was trending down before March.
The jobs numbers reflect "a very sharp slowdown," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto. But, he added, the weak growth may be a more accurate reflection of the fragile recovery than the "surprisingly good" employment numbers notched in January and February.
continued at link