The labor market turned in another strong showing in February as employers added 273,000 jobs despite a slowing economy, worker shortages and early coronavirus fears.
The unemployment rate fell from 3.6% to 3.5%, matching a 50-year low, the Labor Department said Friday.
Many economists said coronavirus concerns were unlikely to significantly affect the February jobs totals because the outbreak didn’t begin to have a bigger impact on the economy and stock market until late February. The employment survey is conducted earlier in the month.
At that time, business confidence was still bolstered by easing U.S. trade tensions with China following their Phase 1 agreement, Goldman Sachs says. Also underpinning job growth was unusually light snowfall and historically low unemployment that has spawned worker shortages and likely prompted some firms to pull forward spring hiring to late winter, Goldman said.
Hiring for the 2020 census was also expected to add about 20,000 temporary government jobs last month, Morgan Stanley said.
But many economists expect the labor market to soften significantly in the months ahead as economic fallout from the coronavirus grows. The Dow Jones industrial average has endured wild swings the past two weeks, tumbling nearly thousand points Thursday, amid worries over the ultimate effects of the epidemic on the economy and corporate earnings.
“Stock market selloffs, weakening global demand, strain supply chains, and heightened economic uncertainty will weigh on business sentiment and their ability to weather the storm,” Morgan Stanley said in a research note.
Even before the virus outbreak, economists expected average monthly job growth to slow from 175,000 last year to just over 100,000 by the end of 2020 because of slower economic growth and employers’ struggles to find workers.
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