May 18, 2024
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The American Job Market Outperforms March Madness

If you think NCAA basketball had a great month in March—and it did, with one of the most fun tournaments in years, especially if you watched Caitlin Clark making a strong case that the best basketball player in America is not a man—then you better have a closer look at how well the American job market performed last month. What a performance! Again.

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report came out last week, no one was surprised it was positive. Yet, it blew nearly everyone’s doors off—not mine, though—with just how powerful it was, as well as the fact that this was the 39th consecutive month like this. I’m no longer surprised.

Most headline worthy was the job creation number of 303,000, which, when added to the previous 38 months, now exceeds 15 million jobs created since January 2021. That’s more than in any four-year administration in history, more even than in the roaring ‘90s. To create 303,000 jobs is, by itself, an eye opener; to do it after 38 such months speaks to the solidity and sustainability of what has become the best job market in our history.

Another telling number is the unemployment rate, which ticked down a tenth of a point to 3.8%. That, in some people’s eyes, is not a big deal, but it really is and here’s why. When lots of jobs are created but the raw number of people in the workforce doesn’t grow concurrently, unemployment rates tend to rise. Not the case in March or in many of the previous 38 months. Further, while the civilian institutional population (working age) grew by 173,000, the civilian labor force (adults either working or looking) ballooned by 468,000, and the ranks of the employed exploded by 498,000, almost three times the growth of the civilian institutional population. These numbers—and more—are so synchronous and so resounding that they can only be compared to something like the New York Philharmonic playing Beethoven’s Symphony #7. Uh … under Leonard Bernstein, surely.

Where were these jobs created? Health care, 72,000; government, 71,000; leisure and hospitality, 49,000; construction, 33,000; retail, 18,000; other services, 16,000; and social assistance, 9,000. Employment showed little or no change in other major industries: mining, manufacturing, wholesale, transportation, information, financial activities, and professional and business services.

A very impressive distribution of wealth. A gaudy show of strength across the board.

In support of growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, wages continued an uninterrupted rise, now standing at 4.1% above a year ago and outstripping what is now the U.S.’s continued low inflation rate of 3.1%.

On the JOLTS front—Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which gives an understanding of the inner workings of the job market — the number of open jobs remained steady at 8.8 million, yielding 1.4 open jobs for every unemployed job seeker. That’s not the highest ratio ever, but consistently strong given the rate of job growth and employment.

In a word, the state of the job market is strong. Very strong, if you’ll permit me a second word.

Now here comes the puzzle—again. With 39 months of proof that things are as good as they are, and that, month after month, there is reason not only to believe these numbers when they happen but to expect them to happen—these numbers continue to draw reactions of surprise, shock, skepticism and even cynicism from leading economists and labor experts (term used liberally). For example, most of these “experts” predicted job growth of about 200,000, a gross underplay, but not surprising given their picks have been as consistently bad as the job market has been consistently good. I wouldn’t go to the track with any of them, for sure.

The reason I bring this up is that, as an independent career coach who’s coached more than 7,000 clients over 27 years, I know what a difference a positive attitude makes—and it’s hard to form and keep a positive attitude when you’re surrounded by negativists. The job market has one peculiarity right now and that’s the slowdown in the hiring process, another issue altogether. But still, those hires are being made for sure.

For fans of March Madness and of a good job market, this is definitely “One Shining Moment.”


Eli Amdur has been providing individualized career and executive coaching, as well as corporate leadership advice, since 1997. For 15 years he taught graduate leadership courses at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has been a regular writer for this and other publications since 2003. You can reach him at [email protected] or (201) 357-5844.

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