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UPDATED: April 6, 2020

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

March's report, while staggering, may lag behind the weekly reporting of unemployment claims from the U.S. Department of Labor, analysts said.

Below are the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports on “The Employment Situation” — the bureau’s term of art for the monthly jobs report.

Each report provides data on the month prior (so September’s report covers August numbers, for example), and numbers are regularly adjusted in future reports. Unadjusted numbers are noted in the text.

Unemployment rate
Percentage of workers who are jobless despite “ability” to work. Latest numbers are unadjusted.
Kathryn Moody/HR Dive, data from BLS
Jobs added
Total of non-farm jobs added to the U.S. market. Latest numbers are unadjusted.
Kathryn Moody/HR Dive, data from BLS
  • March 2020
    4.4% unemployment rate
    701,000 jobs lost

    Employment in March 2020 fell by 701,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4%, reflecting “the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and efforts to contain it,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Notably, the survey period for this report ended March 12, before many states enacted stay-at-home orders that prompted the closure of various businesses — and still the drops are worse than economists expected, according to various media reports.

    This job report, while staggering, may lag behind the weekly reporting of unemployment claims from the U.S. Department of Labor, analysts said. Workers filed 6.6 million unemployment claims the week ending March 28, and the week prior contained more than 3 million new unemployment claims.

    The new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, made more workers eligible for unemployment claims, analysis from the Washington Post noted, which may contribute to some of the rising numbers. Regardless, numbers will likely continue to look worse as the pandemic rages on.

    Released April 3, 2020

  • February 2020
    3.5% unemployment rate
    273,000 jobs added

    February 2020 added 273,000 jobs to the market, nearly 100,000 more than economists expected, Axios said in its report. The strong showing dropped the unemployment rate back down to 3.5%.

    This optimistic report may be the “calm before the storm,” the Economic Policy Institute said in its take on the update. The impact of novel coronavirus may be acutely seen in next month’s report, various media outlets noted; the virus’s emergence could be “the catalyst that could interrupt the longest economic expansion on record,” Reuters said.

    Some employers have already felt the coming crunch. United Airlines announced it is freezing hiring through June, The New York Times reported, and manufacturing is expected to be hard hit.

    Released March 6, 2020

  • January 2020
    3.6% unemployment rate
    225,000 jobs added

    January 2020 saw 225,000 non-farm jobs added — a "strong start" to the new year, the New York Times noted in its report. ADP observed a similar uptick in jobs added, though it reported a 291,000 rise in nonfarm, private sector employment. Unemployment is just slightly higher than it was in December, at 3.6%

    The Wall Street Journal reported "U.S. employers have added to payrolls for 112 straight months, the longest streak of job gains on record," noting that strong hiring has been a mark of economic recovery in the past decade.

    Assuming this trend continues, it will only add pressure to employers on the hunt for talent. "It's a crowded market for those battling to attract top talent and businesses are seeing the most traction when touting company culture along with their open positions," said CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky in a statement emailed to HR Dive.

    Released Feb. 10, 2020

  • December 2019
    3.5% unemployment rate
    145,000 jobs added

    December 2019 added 145,000 jobs, coming in under expectations, various media reports said. Economists expected the market to gain 160,000 jobs, while ADP said in its monthly National Employment Report -- one that is usually in line with BLS releases -- that December gained 202,000 jobs. Unemployment remains at 3.5%.

    December’s numbers cap 10 straight years of job gains -- the longest stretch in 80 years of measurements, The Wall Street Journal reported. Wage growth remains low, however, at 2.9% over the last 12 months.

    “Wage growth, meanwhile, has slowed for much of the year, providing further evidence that we are not yet at genuine full employment,” Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement. Overall, the job market is set to enter 2020 at “a solid pace,” CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky said in a statement, especially as workers continue to relocate and feel confident in their ability to land jobs.

    Released Jan. 10, 2020

  • November 2019
    3.5% unemployment rate
    266,000 jobs added

    266,000 jobs were added in November, according to BLS, smashing economists’ expectations. Analysts expected only around 180,000 jobs gained, prompting experts to proclaim the continued strength of the U.S. economy. Unemployment dropped back down to 3.5%. Numbers are unadjusted.

    “Robust employment growth, coupled with yearly wage increases and historic lows in unemployment rates, are positive signs for our economy,” Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Businesses, said in a media statement. Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, told The New York Times the report was “a real blockbuster.”

    The report also may reflect the return of striking General Motors workers to their jobs. Manufacturing jobs rose by 54,000, making up some losses from the month before. Views were more mixed on wages, however, as the rate remained at 3.1% growth year-over-year.

    Released Dec. 6, 2019