Red Hot Labor Market as U.S. Employers Add 184,000 Jobs in March

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The U.S. labor market showed no signs of cooling in March, with private employers boosting payrolls by 184,000 last month according to a report by payrolls processor ADP. The stronger-than-expected gain signaled the jobs machine kept humming despite the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes aimed at slowing the economy and conquering inflation.

The 184,000 increase was the largest monthly jobs number since July 2023 and topped economists’ estimates of 148,000. It followed an upwardly revised 155,000 gain in February. The vibrant report sets the stage for the government’s highly anticipated nonfarm payrolls release on Friday, with economists forecasting a still-solid 200,000 jobs were added economy-wide last month.

“March was surprising not just for the pay gains, but the sectors that recorded them,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP. “Inflation has been cooling, but our data shows pay is heating up in both goods and services.”

Indeed, wage pressures showed little evidence of easing last month. The ADP data showed annual pay increases for those keeping their jobs accelerated to 5.1%, matching the elevated pace from February. Workers switching jobs saw an even bigger 10% year-over-year jump in wages.

The stubborn strength of the labor market and still-elevated pace of wage increases complicates the Federal Reserve’s efforts to tame inflation, which has started to moderate but remains well above the central bank’s 2% target. Fed officials have signaled they likely have more interest rate hikes ahead as they try to dampen hiring and pay growth enough to fully wrestle inflation under control.

“The labor market remains surprisingly resilient despite the Fed’s tightening of financial conditions over the past year,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “The strong March ADP gain suggests we’re not out of the woods yet on inflation pressures.”

Job growth in March was fairly broad-based across sectors and company sizes. The leisure and hospitality sector continued to be a standout, adding 63,000 new positions as Americans kept splurging on travel and entertainment. Construction payrolls increased by 33,000, while the trade, transportation and utilities sectors combined to add 29,000 workers.

Hiring was also widespread geographically, with the South leading the way by adding 91,000 new employees. The data showed bigger companies with over 50 workers accounted for most of the overall job gains.

One blemish was the professional and business services sector, which cut payrolls by 8,000 in a potential sign of some pockets of weakness emerging amid higher borrowing costs.

While the ADP report doesn’t always sync perfectly with the government’s more comprehensive employment survey, it adds to recent signs that a long-predicted U.S. economic downturn from the Fed’s inflation-fighting campaign has yet to fully materialize. The labor market has remained extraordinarily buoyant, with job openings still far exceeding the number of unemployed and layoffs staying low.

Economists expect Friday’s jobs report to show the unemployment rate held steady at 3.9% in March. If confirmed, it would mark over a year since joblessness was last below 4%, an extremely tight labor market that has forced many companies to raise wages at an unusually rapid clip in order to attract and retain workers.

With paychecks still climbing at a relatively elevated pace, the Fed worries inflationary pressures could become entrenched in the form of a self-perpetuating wage-price spiral. That fear raises the risk the central bank could opt for even higher interest rates, potentially increasing recession risks.


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