Employment report: US losing jobs. No wait, it's gaining!

The ADP employment report shows the US lost jobs in March. But the government's expected to report a job gain. Confused? Read on.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
Damashata Washington looked for work earlier this month at Work 2 Future, a federally funded job training center, in San Jose, Calif. The ADP employment report showed the economy losing 23,000 jobs in March. But the unemployment picture should look better when the government releases its jobs estimate on Friday.

This economy isn't just stubborn, it's confusing.

The US is losing jobs. The ADP National Employment Report on Wednesday reported (.pdf) an unexpected 23,000 decline for March.

No, no. The US is gaining jobs. That's what the US Department of Labor is expected to report on Friday. A Bloomberg survey found the average forecast of 62 economists was 190,000 jobs gained in March.

Who's right?

The US probably did gain jobs in March, probably between 150,000 and 200,000, says John Canally, an economist for LPL Financial in Boston. But much of that increase is due to special factors: a snap-back from February's bad weather, which depressed last month's figures; the addition of perhaps 100,000 census workers (not counted in ADP's private-sector numbers), and the ADP's ongoing undercounting of job growth by about 75,000 a month.

"I still do think that we're headed for a period where you can create 200,000-250,000 jobs a month on average," he says. "It won't be a booming job recovery, but it won't be a jobless recovery."

Some economists think it's the Labor Department that overcounts jobs.

"Our own dart landed at the +225K mark" for Friday's Labor Department report, writes Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist for MFR Inc. in New York, in an analysis. But the government's adjustments overstate job growth, probably 100,000 in March, he adds. After accounting for temporary census jobs and the weather snap-back, "the underlying figure, on our estimation, will be about zero."

Either way, that's better than losing jobs. And the general expectation is that going forward the economy will begin to add jobs. It may be slow and stubborn, but it's the final piece of evidence to make the case that the US really is recovering.

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