US temp jobs fall by 9,800, but still rise over year

The number of US temp jobs fell by 9,800 in February when compared to January, according to seasonally adjusted data released today by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the temp penetration rate — temp jobs as a percent of total employment — fell to 2.03% in February from 2.04% in January.

Temp jobs still increased 3.04% year over year, although the growth rate has been trending down.

For total nonfarm employment, the US added 242,000 jobs in February. Employment gains occurred in healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and private educational services. Job losses continued in mining.

The increase exceeded the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 92 economists, which called for a gain of 195,000.

The US unemployment rate was 4.9% in February, unchanged from January. The college-level unemployment rate was 2.5%, also the same as January. The college-level unemployment rate can serve as a proxy for professional employment.

Despite financial markets turbulence and economic weakness abroad, the strong job numbers in recent months suggest that the US economy remains on track, according to Gad Levanon, managing director, economic outlook and labor markets at The Conference Board. Another positive development is the further improvement in labor force participation.

“Half a percentage point increase since September suggests that we may be seeing a true recovery as opposed to just noise in the data,” Levanon said. “More discouraged workers are starting to look for work again, preventing the unemployment rate from falling despite strong employment growth. As the labor markets get tighter, the downward trend in the unemployment rate is becoming more moderate. However, we expect the unemployment rate to continue moving down to about 4.5% by the end of 2016.”

However, today’s job report also included some disappointments and concerns.

“First, average hourly earnings declined in February, slowing the wage acceleration momentum,” he said. “Second, average weekly hours fell as well. And finally, the number of jobs in the temporary help industry, one of the best leading indicators of employment, declined for the second month in a row.”

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