After enjoying a streak of good news on the jobs front, President Obama’s reaction to the disappointing March jobs report was measured and quick.
Obama made only a passing reference to the report on Friday, as he addressed a White House forum on women and the work force. The president seized on bright spots — a slightly lower unemployment rate and the 120,000 new jobs — and then qualified his optimism.
“But it’s clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way and that we’ve got a lot more work to do,” Obama said. “And that includes addressing challenges that are unique to women’s economic security, challenges that have been around since long before the recession hit.”
The monthly report from the Labor Department found that employers added a modest 120,000 jobs in March, ending a streak of solid job gains in the previous three months. The nation’s jobless rate inched down to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent in February, but the size of the labor force shrunk, an indication that some people were giving up on the search for work and being left out of the headcount of the unemployed.
Republicans who have had to tone down their criticism in reaction to the recent reports did not hold back on Friday.
“It is increasingly clear the Obama economy is not working and that after three years in office the president’s excuses have run out,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely opponent in November.
Republicans in Congress used the numbers to promote their proposed remedies — lowering taxes on small businesses and top earners, cutting environmental and other regulations, trimming government spending and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Unfortunately, the president is refusing to get serious about addressing our fiscal and economic challenges,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “We invite the president and his fellow Democrats who run Washington to join us in acting on common ground that would help the private sector put people back to work.”
The 120,000 jobs added last month was half the December-February pace and well short of the 210,000 economists were expecting. The unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent, the lowest since January 2009, but that was largely because many Americans stopped looking for work.
Still, few economists expect hiring to fizzle in spring and summer, as it did the past two years. And they blamed seasonal factors for much of Friday’s disappointing report from the Labor Department.
“We don’t think this is the start of another spring dip in labor market conditions,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics.
Economists say the numbers can bounce around from month to month. Consistently creating 200,000 jobs a month is tough. The economy hasn’t put together four straight months of 200,000 or more new jobs since early 2000.
Economists are still encouraged by the recent hiring trend: Each month from January through March has generated an average of 212,000 jobs.
Anthony Chan, chief economist at JP Morgan Wealth Management, noted strong growth among businesses that are especially sensitive to the economy’s health. Hotels and restaurants hired 39,000 workers. Manufacturers added 37,000.
The factory hiring is especially welcome. Expanding factories create more jobs at the mines that produce raw materials, in warehouses and at trucking companies.
Government jobs, which declined by an average of 22,000 a month last year, fell just 1,000 in March. An improving economy is generating tax revenue and easing budget problems at city halls and statehouses across the country.
The March slowdown brings back painful memories of what happened in mid-2010 and again in 2011, when the economy lost momentum and job growth sputtered.
Most investors didn’t have the chance to deliver a verdict on the report. The stock market was closed for Good Friday. Bond markets closed early.