March Employment Exceeds Expectations - But Other Measures ‘Little Changed,’ BLS Reports

Craig Bannister | April 5, 2024
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Total nonfarm payroll growth in March exceeded expectations, but virtually all other employment statistics were “little changed,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Friday.

While March’s seasonally-adjusted payroll employment increased by 303,000 from February exceeded analysts’ expectations of a little more than two hundred thousand, other measures of the employment picture failed to record any significant improvement.

The BLS report repeatedly characterizes the February-to-March comparison as either “little changed” or “changed little” (emphasis added):

  • “The unemployment rate changed little at 3.8 percent.”
  • “Both the unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, and the number of unemployed people, at 6.4 million, changed little in March. The unemployment rate has been in a narrow range of 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent since August 2023.”
  • “The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 1.2 million, was little changed in March.”
  • “Both the labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 60.3 percent, were little changed in March. These measures showed little change over the year.”
  • “The number of people employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.3 million, changed little in March.”
  • “In March, the number of people not in the labor force who currently want a job, at 5.4 million, was little changed.
  • “Among those not in the labor force who wanted a job, the number of people marginally attached to the labor force, at 1.6 million, was little changed in March.”


In February, the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent. March's 3.8 percent rate is above that of a year earlier, in March of 2023, when it was 3.6 percent.

Nearly half (47%) of March’s 303,000 job growth is due to higher employment in government and health care:

  • Health Care: +72,000
  • Government: +71,000
  • Leisure/Hospitality: +49,000
  • Construction: +39,000
  • Retail Trade: +18,000
  • Other Services: +16,000
  • Social Assistance: +9,000


March’s employment growth in both government and health care were well above their monthly averages over the prior 12 months. In government, the 71,000 gain is 131% of the 54,000 12-month average, while the health care increase is 120% higher (72,000 vs. 60,000). Construction added 39,000 jobs in March, about double the average monthly gain of 19,000 over the prior 12 months.

The reliability of the employment numbers provided in BLS’s initial monthly estimates has been called into question in recent months, as the job growth first reported has been consistently revised downward in subsequent reports. In last month’s report, for example, BLS revised January’s job gain down by 124,000.

Thus, even though Friday’s report increased January’s total by 27,000, job growth for the month is still 97,000 below the number BLS first reported. Friday’s report also revised February job growth down 5,000 from the gain reported by BLS in last month’s employment report.