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Jobs better-than-expected but "the labor market is still weak": NYT's Greenhouse

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief
Daily Ticker

The U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs in February, alleviating concerns -- at least for the moment -- about the labor market after disappointing results in December and January.

As with every BLS jobs report, there's something for everyone in Friday's data, as I discuss in the accompanying video with NY Times reporter Steven Greenhouse, author of The Big Squeeze.

Beyond the upside surprise on payrolls, featuring 162,000 private sector jobs and upward revisions totaling 25,000 for the prior two months, other notable datapoints in the report include:

  • The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7%, reflecting a 264,000 increase in the size of the labor force.
  • The ranks of the long-term unemployed jumped by 200,000 to 3.8 million. "At a time when [long-term] unemployment benefits are being cut back, that means real pain for a lot of people," Greenhouse notes.
  • Average hourly earnings rose 0.4%, bringing the year-over-year gain to 2.2%. "A lot of people haven't felt much of a gain but it's a gain nonetheless," Greenhouse says.
  • The average workweek fell to the lowest level since January 2011, which economists said was likely due to the bad winter weather. (That said, the weather-sensitive construction sector added 15,000 jobs last month.)
  • The "real" unemployment rate (U6) fell to 12.6% from 12.7% while the labor participation rate held steady at 63%, just above the generational low of 62.8% in December.

Overall, "it's a mixed report," according to Greenhouse. "The labor market is still pretty weak. It's not clear workers will have the leverage, the bargaining power to seek a job across the street that might pay 5% or 10% that might put pressure on one's employer to give a good raise."

Related: Ditching your job, spouse, and budget: Why it's great news for the economy

Asked about the recent uptick in the so-called quit rate, which many economists point to as a sign of an improving job market, as well as improvements in consumers' view of the labor market in the most recent Consumer Confidence report, Greenhouse agreed "workers are more confident."

But in the end, he made a literary (vs. economic) reference to sum up the state of the labor market: Been down so long it seems like up to me.

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker and Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com.