Yeah, I know economic statistics can be a big blur. Jobless claims vs. jobless rate vs. the number of new jobs – it’s a land mine of facts and figures that can be especially confusing nowadays because each piece of data often contradicts the other. But you might want to pay attention to what happens a week from tomorrow. That’s when the nation's March employment report comes out, arguably the most-watched indicator of them all, and the betting among forecasters is that there will be a net gain in jobs for the month, perhaps a large one. One research firm is looking for a payroll jump of 225,000, which would be huge compared with the monthly declines we’ve been mostly seeing for two years.
What gives? Well, part of the increase is temporary - the federal government has been hiring hundreds of thousands of Census takers who are being added to the rolls for a few months. But even absent those short-term additions, there is evidence that the private sector is finally beginning to hire. Don't get too excited - there's a massive backlog of job seekers, so it could be a while before the U.S. unemployment rate shows a noticeable fall. Also don't forget that the state and local jobless rate is almost 3 percentage points higher than the national rate. Even so, a strong March report would be a big deal. Simon Constable offers this at Real Time Economics:
"Anecdotally, I've seen evidence of a more vibrant job market. Here in New York City, there has been a dramatic decline in service quality at some of the local lunch spots. That is typically a sign that it's becoming harder for companies either to get quality workers and/or appropriately trained managers. In addition, not only are there now help-wanted signs in store fronts, but there is also some rather frenetic activity among headhunters. Both things were absent eight months ago."
Just to make things a little more confusing, California's employment numbers for February come out tomorrow.