Job numbers are up when they're down

A job seeker looks at a job listing board at the East Bay Career Center in Oakland, Calif.

KAI RYSSDAL: Government economic statistics are dense enough. So it's no fun when you've got to read between the lines to figure out what's going on. The February unemployment report came out this morning. The economy added a paltry 97,000 jobs last month. But somehow the unemployment rate still managed to fall a tenth of a point to 4.5 percent.

Nigel Gault's an economist with Global Insight.

NIGEL GAULT: The reason is, the labor force fell, so that there were fewer people looking for jobs in February. So that's why the unemployment rate fell. It was on the labor-supply side, rather than the labor-demand side.

Why they bailed out of the job markets? Nigel says you can't really tell just by looking at the numbers. As for the actual jobs, Gault says the weather's to blame for 76,000 lost construction jobs. Not, as you might imagine, the housing slump.

GAULT: Essentially because the labor report is taken from the early to the mid part of the month, we were comparing rather balmy temperatures earlier in January with much colder weather and snowier weather in February. So the conditions for getting construction work done were much worse in the month of February.

That's economist Nigel Gault with the forecasting firm Global Insight.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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