Employment and Earnings

Employment and unemployment developments, March 2003

Employment and unemployment developments, March 2003

Total nonfarm payroll employment declined by 108,000 in March, while the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.8 percent. Employment continued to decline in manufacturing, retail trade, and transportation. Government employment also was down over the month.


The number of unemployed persons, 8.4 million, was unchanged in March, and the unemployment rate remained at 5.8 percent. Unemployment rates for the major worker groups–adult men (5.3 percent), adult women (5.0 percent), teenagers (17.7 percent), whites (5.1 percent), blacks or African Americans (10.2 percent), and Hispanics or Latinos (7.5 percent)–showed little or no change in March. The unemployment rate for Asians was 6.5 percent, not seasonally adjusted. About 1 in 5 unemployed persons had been without a job for 27 weeks or longer. (See tables A-3, A-4, A-12, and A-13.)

Total employment and the labor force

Total employment in March was 137.3 million, and the employment-population ratio was about unchanged at 62.3 percent. The civilian labor force was 145.8 million. The labor force participation rate–the proportion of the population age 16 and older who are either working or looking for work–was 66.2 percent. Since March 2001, the labor force participation rate has decreased by 0.9 percentage point. (See table A-3.)

There were 4.7 million persons working part time for economic reasons in March, little changed from February. These persons indicated that they would like to work full time, but worked part time because their hours were cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job. The number of such workers has increased by about half a million over the year. (See table A-7.)

Persons not in the labor force

In March, 1.6 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, compared with 1.4 million a year earlier. 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 474,000 discouraged workers in March, up from 330,000 a year ago. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, were not currently looking for work specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them. (See table A-37.)

Industry payroll employment

Total nonfarm payroll employment fell by 108,000 in March to 130.4 million, seasonally adjusted. This followed a loss of 357,000 jobs (as revised) in February. The largest job declines in March occurred in manufacturing, retail trade, and government. Construction employment edged upward, and most other major industries showed little change in employment. (See table B-3.)

Widespread job losses continued in manufacturing (-36,000) over the month, particularly in the industries that produce durable goods. Manufacturing employment reached its most recent peak in April 1998 and has since fallen by 2.5 million. Over the month, employment in industrial machinery decreased by 8,000 and has fallen by 470,000 since its most recent peak in April 1998. Employment in electronic and other electrical equipment edged down by 4,000 in March and has dropped by 418,000 since November 2000. Aircraft manufacturing lost 2,000 jobs over the month, and employment in the industry has declined by 141,000 since September 1998. Each of these three industries has had an employment decrease of at least 20 percent.

In March, employment in the construction industry increased by 21,000, following a decrease of 42,000 (as revised) in February. Since April 2002, construction industry employment has shown virtually no net change. In mining, employment has been essentially unchanged since September 2002. A gain of 9,000 jobs in oil and gas extraction over that period was largely offset by losses in nonmetallic mining.

Retail trade lost 43,000 jobs in March, after seasonal adjustment, mainly reflecting another large decline in eating and drinking places. Employment in eating and drinking places fell by 38,000 over the month; the industry has lost nearly 300,000 jobs since its peak in July 2001. Department stores lost 13,000 jobs in March.

Over the past 2 years, government employment trended upward, while private sector employment trended downward. Recently, budget problems have lowered the rate of job growth in State and local government. In March, government employment fell by 40,000.

Transportation employment was down by 14,000 in March, with small losses across many component industries. Since peaking in January 2001, transportation has lost 301,000 jobs, with air transportation accounting for over half the decline.

Employment in services was essentially unchanged in March, after decreasing by 121,000 in February. Computer and data processing services lost 10,000 jobs over the month. Seasonal hiring was less than usual in several services industries. As a result, seasonally adjusted employment was down in help supply services (-48,000), amusements and recreation (-21,000), agricultural services (-15,000), and hotels and other lodging places (-12,000). Job gains in other service industries, such as health services, private education, and social services, partly offset these losses.

Wholesale trade employment held steady during the first 3 months of 2003. The industry had lost an average of 5,000 jobs per month in 2002.

Employment in finance edged upward in March. Mortgage banking added 3,000 jobs, compared with average gains of 7,000 over the previous 9 months. Since January 2001, employment in this industry has increased by 126,000, or 42 percent.

Weekly hours

The average workweek for production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.2 hour in March to 34.3 hours, seasonally adjusted. The manufacturing workweek was unchanged at 40.8 hours. Manufacturing overtime was down by 0.1 hour to 4.0 hours. (See table B-8.)

The index of aggregate weekly hours of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.3 percent in March to 147.6 (1982=100), seasonally adjusted. The manufacturing index fell by 0.6 percent to 90.0 over the month. (See table B-9.)

Hourly and weekly earnings

Average hourly earnings of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 2 cents in March to $15.10, seasonally adjusted. This followed a gain of 9 cents in February (as revised). Average weekly earnings rose by 0.7 percent in March to $517.93. Over the year, average hourly earnings increased by 3.1 percent and average weekly earnings grew by 3.4 percent. (See table B-11.)