Strong Job Gains, Tepid Pay Shows Healthy Job Market Pre-Coronavirus


March 6, 2020

February’s jobs report exceeded expectations revealing strong jobs growth in a rearview mirror glance at a job market not yet touched by the unfolding coronavirus  outbreak. This morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the labor market continues to add jobs at a healthy clip, adding 273,000 jobs in February. Unemployment also dropped back down to 3.5 percent, tying the 50-year low. 

Wage growth was a black spot in today’s report, dropping to a disappointing 3.0 percent and continuing a deceleration from early 2019. Despite several months of a hot job market, we are still yet to see wages accelerate for American workers. Unless the labor market heats up in coming months, it may be unlikely that American workers see accelerating wage gains in 2020.

There was little sign of early impact from the coronavirus outbreak in today’s industry-level data. Manufacturing gained 15,000 jobs despite ongoing trade tensions and concerns that the coronavirus would disrupt international supply chains. Leisure & hospitality also continued its strong growth in February, adding 51,000 jobs. On the flip side, retail (-7,000 jobs), transportation & warehousing (-4,000 jobs) and temporary help services (-3,300 jobs) all saw modest declines, but not wholly out of line with recent trends.

Today’s report offers a last snapshot of the labor market, before the coronavirus outbreak took hold of the national conversation. While the outbreak is likely to disrupt business operations, we continue to see companies experimenting with ways to navigate the evolving outbreak. On Glassdoor, we’re seeing reports of companies instituting work-from-home policies, replacing in-person interviews with virtual ones, and more. The ongoing health of the labor market will depend on how quickly and effectively companies can react to the outbreak and adapt accordingly.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused high uncertainty and the state of the labor market in the coming months will depend largely on how the outbreak evolves and how policymakers and businesses respond. For now,  today’s report reveals a robust and growing labor market and may provide enough strength to buffer the economy against any major disruptions.

More Insights

The unemployment rate has dropped back down to 3.5%, tying the lowest rate in fifty years. More recent unemployment claims data have also been steady, so we’re not seeing early indicators of an uptick in unemployment quite yet.

Payrolls beat expectations, adding 273K jobs, a healthy margin of roughly 100K above expectations. The labor market has added jobs at a very robust clip over last few months and extends its streak of job gains to 113 months.

The industry-level data isn’t showing signs of the coronavirus outbreak yet. Manufacturing and leisure & hospitality were strong. Retail and transportation & warehousing weak but in line with recent trends. Construction also out-performed as low interest rates continue to spur demand for more workers.

Wage growth was a big disappointment in today’s report, slowing to 3.0 percent after a false start in early 2019 when it surged to 3.5 percent. This is a real concern and surprise that American workers aren’t seeing faster wage gains when job gains have been so hot.

To speak with Daniel Zhao about today’s jobs report or to discuss labor market trends, contact pr at Glassdoor dot com. For the latest economics and labor market updates, follow @danielbzhao on Twitter and subscribe to Glassdoor Economic Research.