Employment and Earnings

Employment and unemployment developments, February 2004

Employment and unemployment developments, February 2004

Nonfarm payroll employment was little changed (+21,000) in February, and the unemployment rate remained at 5.6 percent. Employment levels in most of the major industries were little changed over the month.


The number of unemployed persons was 8.2 million in February, and the unemployment rate held at 5.6 percent, seasonally adjusted. Both measures are below their recent highs of June 2003. Unemployment rates for the major worker groups–adult men (5.1 percent), adult women (4.9 percent), teenagers (16.6 percent), whites (4.9 percent), blacks (9.8 percent), and Hispanics or Latinos (7.4 percent)–showed little or no change over the month. The unemployment rate for Asians was 4.7 percent in February, not seasonally adjusted. (See tables A-3, A-4, and A-13.)

Total employment and the labor force

Total employment was down in February to 138.3 million, and the employment-population ratio–the proportion of the population age 16 and older with jobs–declined to 62.2 percent. The ratio was at or near that level for most of 2003. Over the month, the civilian labor force decreased by 392,000 to 146.5 million, and the labor force participation rate fell to 65.9 percent. (See table A-3.)

The number of persons who work part time for economic reasons edged down in February to 4.4 million, seasonally adjusted. This category includes persons who indicated that they would like to work full time but were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs. (See table A-7.)

About 7.2 million persons (not seasonally adjusted) held more than one job in February. These multiple jobholders represented 5.3 percent of the total employed, down from 5.6 percent a year earlier. (See table A-38.)

Persons not in the labor force

In February, about 1.7 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, about the same as a year earlier. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals wanted and were available to work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed, however, because they did not actively search for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. There were 484,000 discouraged workers in February, also about the same as a year earlier. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, were not currently looking for work specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them. The other 1.2 million marginally attached had not searched for work for reasons such as school or family responsibilities. (See table A-37.)

Industry payroll employment

Total nonfarm payroll employment was little changed (+21,000) in February, at 130.2 million, seasonally adjusted. Since August 2003, payroll employment has risen by 364,000. (See table B-3.)

Construction employment declined by 24,000 in February, partly offsetting a large increase in January. Since last March, construction employment has risen by 123,000. In February, job losses were spread throughout the component industries.

Manufacturing employment was about unchanged over the month; the pace of job losses in this sector has slowed in recent months. Since August, job losses in manufacturing have averaged 16,000 a month, compared with an average loss of 62,000 for the first 8 months of 2003. In February, a small employment gain in durable goods manufacturing was offset by a continuing decline in nondurable goods.

Within the financial activities sector, securities, commodity contracts, and investments added 4,000 jobs in February. While employment in the securities industry has grown by 18,000 since last August, credit intermediation (which includes mortgage banking) has lost 22,000 jobs over the same period.

Employment in retail trade was little changed in February. Since October, employment in this industry has shown no net change.

Within professional and business services, employment in temporary help services rose by 32,000 over the month, after a small loss in January. Since April 2003, the temporary help industry has added 215,000 jobs.

Private education and health services employment was little changed in February but increased by 291,000 over the past 12 months. Within health care and social assistance, hospitals lost 5,000 jobs in February. This partly offset a gain of 10.000 in social assistance employment, which was concentrated in child day care services. Within government, State government added 20,000 jobs in February, largely in State education.

Weekly hours

The average workweek for production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged in February at 33.8 hours, seasonally adjusted. The manufacturing workweek increased by 0.1 hour to 41.0 hours, and has risen by 0.9 hour since last July. Manufacturing overtime was unchanged in February at 4.5 hours, but has increased since last summer. (See table B-8.)

The index of aggregate weekly hours of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls decreased by 0.1 percent to 98.9 in February (2002= ! 00). The manufacturing index increased by 0.1 percent over the month to 94.2. (See table B-9.)

Hourly and weekly earnings

Average hourly earnings of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents over the month to $15.52, seasonally adjusted. The increase for January was 4 cents, as revised. Average weekly earnings rose by 0.2 percent in February to $524.58. Over the year, average hourly earnings increased by 1.6 percent, and average weekly earnings increased by 1.9 percent. (See table B-11.)