SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Disappointing economic news yesterday. The job market, which had seen improvement in recent months, appears to have stalled. In March, the U.S. economy added a paltry 88,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Department. It was the slowest pace of growth since last June and less than half of what economists had expected. NPR's Dan Bobkoff has more.
DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: Yes, these jobs numbers can vary month to month. There's a lot of statistical noise. One month's data can prove meaningless, but 88,000, that's pretty week.
KEN GOLDSTEIN: Well, I mean, certainly, was a surprise.
BOBKOFF: Ken Goldstein is an economist with The Conference Group, a research group. He says most of his peers though we had gained at least 180,000 jobs last month. The sectors that did see job growth include health care, construction and business services. But there were fewer people working at the mall. Retail said 24,000 jobs last month, despite higher sales. That's why one month's numbers might not tell the whole story. But Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute says if you zoom out a bit, the average monthly job growth since the beginning of 2013 is just 168,000.
HEIDI SHIERHOLZ: That's not great. At that rate, we will not get down to the pre-recession unemployment rate until 2019.
BOBKOFF: The unemployment rate, which comes from a different survey, did fall slightly to 7.6 percent, but that's not so much that more people found work, rather, the number of people in the labor force took a big drop in March. Nearly half a million people were neither working nor looking. But Shierholz says it's more complicated.
SHIERHOLZ: The interesting part of this is that we would see the labor force participation rate dropping right now, even if the great recession hadn't happened.
BOBKOFF: That's because baby boomers are starting to retire, so to account for that Sherhos looked at workers in their prime, 25-54 year olds and found big drops there too.
SHIERHOLZ: There's just a weak demand for workers.
BOBKOFF: But amidst the doom and gloom, Ken Goldstein of The Conference Board thinks and improving housing sector is still giving the US economy momentum. He says we might be experiencing a little damage right now from higher payroll taxes and across the board, federal budget cuts.
GOLDSTEIN: I don't think that we are really falling off the track here. I don't think that the economy is hitting a solid brick wall. I think rather, we are going over a speed bump. That's what makes me an optimist.
BOBKOFF: He expects job growth to pick up later this year. Dan Bobkoff, NPR NEWS, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.