The federal government’s financial slim-fast known as sequestration is starting to squeeze all the wrong curves, and the March jobs report is feeling the burn.
According to the Labor Department’s latest monthly jobs report released last Friday, April 5, the national economy added a mere 88,000 jobs in March -— far lower than its initial pre-sequester projection.
Though the unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent in the same month, the number is far from a positive indication that employment is growing, as almost half a million people dropped out of the quantifiable workforce as a result of seeking underemployment or none at all.
Publicity of the monthly jobs report has grown in prominence as a quick assessment of the national economy since the housing and financial crisis that began in 2007. The March report runs in on the heels of the 268,000 jobs added in the February report, one of the highest in years since the Great Recession following the crisis.
Former chairman of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisors Austan Goolsbee said in a CNBC interview last Friday that the March number was significantly lower than he and his economic peers expected.
“Look, we all over-shot it. This is a punch to the gut. This is not a good number. And I think now you’re going to interestingly start seeing a lot of discussion about maybe the sequester’s a bigger deal than people thought it was,” Goolsbee said.
Dramatically reduced hiring by both small and medium-sized businesses, government positions, and major retailers accounted for a large part of the drop.
The U.S. Postal Service accounted for 12,000 of the 14,000 jobs lost at the federal level, and after six months of steady growth in jobs brought on by similarly increasing consumer confidence, retailers shed an additional 24,000 jobs last month.
Health care and construction were of the few industries to report gains, though still lower than in previous months. National economic job loss bottomed out in 2010 amidst the thick of the housing crisis and has risen by 5.9 million jobs in total since — still 2.9 million jobs away from peak, pre-crisis levels in 2008.
Market reaction was immediate as the Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes all opened down an average of 1 percent or more the same morning the report was released.
Sequestration policy took effect last month as economists were reporting the markets had finally recouped their losses from the housing crisis, and were back at pre-2008 averages — including rising equity in the housing market specifically.
Congress and the White House have been locked in debate over budget reform and deficit reduction since the 2010 mid-term elections, which ushered a Republican majority into the House of Representatives made up of budget-slashing Tea Party conservatives.
The resulting hyper-partisan legislation, and lack thereof, led to sequestration, which took effect March 1 after the Republican House and the Democratic Senate failed to pass a bicameral budget.
If the March jobs report is any indication, the national economy is only beginning to show symptoms of it’s mandatory diet of austerity and lack of federally-induced economic exercise. Time will tell if it is a purifying treatment, or a starving anorexia.
For more details on sequestration policy see last month’s Political Pabulum titled “Destination: Sequestration.”