Jobs Report Highlights Economy's Fragile State

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Investors have been optimistic that the U.S. economy is bottoming out and headed for an upswing, but recent job reports indicate the labor market is not improving. Payroll giant Automatic Data Processing reports Wednesday the private sector shed 742,000 jobs in March, a record high for the ADP survey.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Stock prices are up for the second day in a row. The market has been pretty erratic lately. It's up about 20 percent over the past few weeks. Investors are apparently feeling more optimistic about the nation's banks. But a couple of reports issued today suggest the euphoria may be premature.

NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI: The March unemployment report won't be released until Friday, but there's new data indicating just what's in store, and the picture isn't pretty. ADP Employer Services said that private sector employers eliminated a record 742,000 jobs in March. Meanwhile, the research firm TrimTabs issued a report based on tax withholding data. It says anywhere from 700 to 750,000 jobs were lost. Charles Bederman is the firm's CEO.

Mr. CHARLES BEDERMAN (CEO, TrimTabs): There's an expectation out there that the U.S. economy is in the bottoming phase and that it will be bouncing back and all the actions by the Obama administration will ameliorate the problem. Unfortunately, the real-time data that we track says the opposite, that things are not getting better, that things are getting worse.

ZARROLI: The numbers indicate that the unemployment rate, which was 8.1 percent in February, probably grew even higher last month. Ian Shepherdson is chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Dr. IAN SHEPHERDSON (Chief Economist, High Frequency Economics): Well, quite likely, I think on Friday, to see something close to three-quarters of a million net declines, which would be the worst in this cycle and the worst payroll number we've seen since the '50s. So it's really quite a horrendous mess.

ZARROLI: As for the recent rally in stock prices, Shepherdson says it probably doesn't mean much. The markets are famous for predicting rebounds that don't come and recessions that never happen. And he says Friday's unemployment report is likely to present a much gloomier picture than many investors are anticipating.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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