Private-sector employment reaches milestone in March

The level of private-sector employment is back to its pre-recession high, but the recovery in construction and manufacturing payrolls has a long way to go.
(Daniel Acker / Bloomberg)

WASHINGTON -- It took more than four years, but the economy last month finally recovered all the millions of private-sector jobs lost in the last downturn.

The March employment report released Friday showed employers added a reassuringly solid 192,000 jobs last month, shaking off the winter hiring doldrums. All of that came from private employers, bringing total nongovernment payrolls above the previous peak of 115.98 million in January 2008, near the start of the Great Recession.

“The private sector lost 8.8 million jobs during the labor market downturn and has gained 8.9 million since the employment low in February 2010,” Erica L. Groshen, the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said in a statement accompanying the jobs report.

Still, that doesn’t mean the labor market is back to where it once was. Far from it.


Apart from the unemployment rate, which remained at 6.7% last month, total government employment in March was more than 800,000 shy of its high in the spring of 2009. So it will most likely be a few more months before the economy recovers all the nonfarm jobs lost in the downturn.

Even then, it won’t feel like a full recovery. That’s because millions more new jobs were needed to keep up with the increase in the working-age population of the last few years. 

“We haven’t really made up the losses,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Baker estimates that the labor force, which is made up of those with jobs or who are looking for work, is 6 million larger today than at the start of the recession.

Then there’s the mix of winners and losers. Construction employment in March remained more than 1.5 million short of its pre-recession level. Ditto for manufacturing. 


Those losses roughly equal the job gains in the last few years in two sectors: healthcare and social services, and restaurant and drinking establishments.

The shift helps explain the relatively higher unemployment for men, who dominate construction and manufacturing. And it also points to the downward pressure on average earnings.

Construction and manufacturing pay above the average hourly earnings for all private-sector workers, as does the health services category. But workers in restaurants and other leisure businesses make well below the average.