Census Hiring Boosts Employment Payrolls

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The economy added about 160,000 jobs in March, according to the Labor Department. That's the biggest increase in three years, which reflects temporary hiring for the census. Analysts say it's a clear sign the labor market is on the mend.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.


And Im Mary Louise Kelly.

The economy added about 160,000 jobs last month, according to the Labor Department. That's the biggest increase in three years. Analysts say it's a clear sign the labor market is on the mend.

But there are caveats, and to find out more, we turn to Frank Langfitt, NPR's labor correspondent. Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Alright, so walk us through this. This is good news this morning.

LANGFITT: This is very good news. I think it's the biggest increase we've seen since March of 2007, which was of course way before the recession. And what I really liked about what I saw, and analysts I talked to this morning, is that there were these small gains but they were broad-based. If you looked at manufacturing, which has been losing jobs for a very long time, retail, leisure and hospitality, they all grew.

And what this suggests is that the hiring people, the bosses, are beginning to feel more confident about the economy and they're starting to make some real hiring, which we haven't seen in a long time. Another thing that was nice to see as well is there were revisions for January and February. Labor Department goes back, says actually we gained more jobs in January and February than we thought, somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 60,000 or so.

So really looking back, I'd say these were easily the best numbers that we've seen in at least two years.

KELLY: Is there anything that should give us pause in this report?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I mean it's not as good as it appears, and here's why. Forty-eight thousand of those new jobs you just talked about, they're temporary census workers. Now, that, you know, it puts money in people's pocket and a lot of people need jobs right now, but that's not really an indication of what's really going on in the economy.

The other thing is that we probably got a bit of an increase because of snow. Back in February the big blizzards here in the Northeast would have kept people from hiring, they might not have been at work when the Department of Labor called. So this is definitely a lot higher, a bit higher than probably the reality out there.

KELLY: So help me square something here, Frank. The economy has added 160,000 new jobs, but the unemployment rate stayed the same still 9.7 percent. How do you square those two?

LANGFITT: Well, there's something else going on here that explains that pretty clearly, and that is more people are coming back into the labor market, more people are looking for work, about 400,000 in the last month or so. What that means is they're more encouraged, but of course that means there's more competition, more people looking for work, and so that's how the unemployment rate remains the same. Because if you're not looking for work and you're one of these discouraged workers, they don't count you.

The other thing and you're getting to something, I think, that's very important that you don't see as much at the top of the report, and that is we have a lot of people still out of work and out of work for a long time. We lost eight million jobs during more than eight million jobs during the recession. And what we're seeing is long-term unemployment is now at historic levels. More than six million people have been out of work for more than 27 weeks, and that's really a staggering number.

KELLY: That must have long-term implications, to have so many people out of work, as you say, for so long.

LANGFITT: It does. I mean particularly what it means is that a lot of these people are going to have even more trouble getting back in the labor market. We're not even though we're adding jobs, we're not adding enough to kind of sop up some of these folks. And what it means is the longer you're out of work, the harder it is, as you know, to get to get a new job, get a job that paid anywhere what you had before. And also there's a big psychological impact. When people have been out of work for so long, it affects their self-esteem, it affects what home life is like. So that may be one of the great long-term and painful legacies of this recession, is all these people who've been out of work for so long.

KELLY: Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's NPR's labor correspondent, Frank Langfitt.

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