Near Record Employment: 159,759,000 Working in U.S.A.

Susan Jones | March 6, 2020 | 7:52am EST
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(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

( -  Forty-five thousand more people were employed in February than in January, bringing the total number employed -- 158,759,000-- to the second highest level in the nation's history.

The only time more people have been working in the United States was in December 2019, when there were 158,803,000 employed.

The number of employed has broken 25 records so far in the Trump presidency.


The unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a point to 3.5 percent in February, a fifty-year low reached last September and again in subsequent months.

And the labor force participation rate remained at its Trump-era  high of 63.4 percent last month, up from 62.9 percent when Trump took office.

In February, the civilian non-institutional population in the United States was 259,628,000. That included all people 16 and older who did not live in an institution (such as a prison, nursing home or long-term care facility).

Of that civilian non-institutional population, 164,564,000 were participating in the labor force, meaning that they either had a job or were actively seeking one during the last month. This resulted in a labor force participation rate of 63.4 percent, the same as February and the highest it's been since June 2013.

In another bright spot, total nonfarm payroll employment rose by a very strong 273,000 in February. Notable job gains occurred in health care and social assistance, food services and drinking places, government, construction, professional and technical services, and financial activities.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asians declined to 2.5 percent in February. The rates for adult men (3.3 percent), adult women (3.1 percent), teenagers (11.0 percent), Whites (3.1 percent), Blacks (5.8 percent), and Hispanics (4.4 percent) showed little or no change over the month.

In February, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 9 cents to $28.52. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.0 percent.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for December was revised up by 37,000 from +147,000 to +184,000, and the change for January was revised up by 48,000 from +225,000 to +273,000. With these revisions, employment gains in December and January combined were 85,000 higher than previously reported.

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Feb. 11, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell noted that the economic expansion is "well into its eleventh year," making it the longest on record.

"Over the second half of last year, economic activity increased at a moderate pace," Powell said, "and the labor market strengthened further as the economy appeared resilient to the global headwinds that had intensified last summer."

But Powell also mentioned the emerging coronavirus: "And particularly, we are closely monitoring the emergence of the coronavirus, which could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy."

According to Powell:

Job gains average 200,000 per month in the second half of last year, and an additional 225,000 jobs were added in January. The pace of job gains has remained above what is needed to provide jobs for new workers who enter the labor force, allowing the unemployment rate to move down further over the course of last year.

The unemployment rate was 3.6 percent last month (January), and has been near half-century lows for more than a year. Job openings remain plentiful. Employers are increasingly willing to hire workers with fewer skills and train them. As a result, the benefits of a strong labor market have become more widely shared.

People who live in and work in low and middle income communities are finding new opportunities. Employment gains have been a broad-based across all racial and ethnic groups and levels of education. Wages have been rising, particularly for lower paying jobs.

Powell also noted that Gross Domestic Product rose at a "moderate rate" in the second half of 2019. But exports were weak, reflecting sluggish growth abroad and trade issues.

Powell told the committee, "The nation faces important longer run challenges. Labor force participation by individuals and their prime working years is at its highest rate in more than a decade. However, it remains lower than in most other advanced economies, and there are troubling labor market disparities across racial and ethnic groups and across region of the country.

Powell said finding ways to boost labor force participation and productivity growth "would benefit Americans and should remain a national priority."


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