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Job growth soared in March, exceeding optimistic expectations

When Donald Trump assured voters that the economy would collapse if he lost, that apparently wasn't true.
Image:
A help wanted sign is displayed at car wash in Indianapolis on Sept. 2, 2020.Michael Conroy / AP

Expectations headed into this morning showed projections of about 675,000 new jobs added in the United States in March. As it turns out, according to the new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those projections underestimated matters by a large margin.

The U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, in the strongest indication yet that the labor market is finally working its way back to pre-pandemic norms as the number of vaccinations continues to rise.

It's also worth emphasizing that the revisions from the last few months were also very encouraging: January's job totals were revised from 166,000 to 233,000, while February's tally was revised from 379,000 to 468,000. Combined, that's an additional 156,000 previously unreported new jobs -- on top of the preliminary 916,000 total from March.

All of which is to say, when Donald Trump assured voters that the economy would collapse if he lost, that wasn't exactly true.

By any fair measure, today's jobs report is worth feeling good about, but no one should forget that the domestic economy still has a long way to go before we return to pre-pandemic levels.

As we discussed in January, the trajectory matters: In March and April of last year, the economy shed over 22 million jobs. The United States spent the next several months adding jobs, but that only brought us back halfway to where we were.

Just as importantly, the monthly totals gradually decreased in the latter half of 2020 as the coronavirus crisis intensified. In other words, even as the economy added jobs, July's totals were worse than June's, August's totals were worse than July's, September's totals were worse than August's, and so on.

In December 2020, the economy stopped adding jobs altogether.

Fortunately, that trend has ended, and we're moving in the right direction again: January was better than December, February was better than January, and March was better than February and January put together.

The road ahead is long -- we'd need about 13 months like this one to return to where we were when the COVID crisis began -- but progress is heartening.

Here's the chart I run every month, showing monthly changes in total jobs since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to monthly changes under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to monthly job changes under the Obama and Biden administrations.