Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, was 10.0% in March — down from 10.2% in mid-March and 10.3% at the end of February, but above the 9.8% at the end of January. U.S. unemployment was 10.4% at the end of March a year ago.
The percentage of part-time workers who want full-time work was 9.3% at the end of March — down from 9.7% in mid-March and 9.6% in both February measurements. The current percentage remains higher than the 9.1% at the end of January but lower than the 10.0% of a year ago.
Underemployment Declines in March
Underemployment combines part-time workers wanting full-time work with those who are unemployed. Both groups’ readings fell in March; consequently, underemployment also fell, to 19.3% from 19.9% in mid-March and at the end of February. Underemployment was more than a full percentage point higher one year ago.
ADP on Wednesday reported that U.S. private-sector jobs increased by 201,000 in March — the third consecutive month at this level of job growth. At the same time, Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed a sharp decline in March U.S. layoffs compared with last year. All of this is consistent with Gallup’s Job Creation Index, which has shown slightly more jobs being created and comparatively low layoffs during the first quarter of 2011.
However, contrary to the federal government’s recent job reports, Gallup’s unemployment and underemployment measures suggest that recent job increases have not been sufficient to significantly improve the jobs situation so far in 2011. Although both of Gallup’s measures were marginally better in March, they remain higher now than they were in January.
The March improvement in the jobs situation compared with February may be partly the result of seasonal hiring patterns, with companies increasing their hiring at this time of year. However, the 2010 jobs situation didn’t show substantial improvement until the second half of April. Regardless, the decline in the underemployment rate year-over-year is consistent with a cautious hiring approach in which employers avoid layoffs while taking on more part-time workers and limiting their hiring of full-time employees.
Despite the March uptick, Gallup’s view of the U.S. jobs situation remains substantially less optimistic than the government’s recent unemployment report might suggest. Added to this, late March Gallup Daily tracking results show a continuing decline in economic optimism, a pullback in consumer spending, and a drop in Gallup’s Job Creation Index. This suggests that recent behavior on Main Street does not reflect the government’s rosier assessment. It also implies that the recent marginal improvement Gallup finds may be more temporary than one might hope.