US Adds 275,000 Jobs In February Amid Rising Costs, Underwhelming Inflation Control

US Adds 275,000 Jobs In February Amid Rising Costs, Underwhelming Inflation Control
A 'Now Hiring' sign posted in the window of a restaurant | Getty Images | Photo by Joe Raedle

Amid rising costs and bleak consumer sentiment, the US job market has shown signs of recovery. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics data, employers added about 275,000 jobs in February, indicating the economy's ability to cope with high-interest rates. At the same time, the unemployment rate also rose to 3.9% which is still low by historical standards as it has remained below 4% for the 25th month in a row, the longest streak since the 1960s. Despite tech companies continuing with mass layoffs, a spike in construction, retail, and food services jobs contributed to the gain in employment, as per a JP Morgan Chase report.



 

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At a time when American consumers are increasingly worried about rising costs, the labor market remains resilient. However, it does show some signs of a slowdown, as the unemployment rate slightly increased due to a drop in the household measure of employment, by 184,000 in February, JP Morgan Chase reported. Furthermore, weekly jobless claims came in slightly higher than forecast, suggesting the pace of job growth is slowing. The claims were notably high in California and New York.



 

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Even though inflation has slightly cooled off in the past few months, average prices are still about 17% higher than three years ago. However, in February, the average hourly wages rose by a slight 0.1% from January. This was less than expected as it is the smallest monthly gain in over two years. This is an important measure for inflation, which may be taken into consideration by the Federal Reserve for lowering interest rates.



 

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The labor market plays a key role in the Fed’s interest rate decisions. The Fed has set a target to bring inflation down to 2% and rate cuts are unlikely to happen until it is achieved. To affect interest rates, the labor market must be further moderated. But this may prove to be tough as February’s CPI release by the Bureau of Statistics showed underwhelming progress with inflation.

The most recent consumer price index, which is a broad measure of goods and services costs, increased 0.4% in February. This is a 3.2% rise from a year ago. While the rise is lower than the peak of 2022, it is well below the Fed’s 2% target, as the central bank approaches its two-day policy meeting in a week.



 

Most economists and Wall Street investors previously predicted that the first-rate cut would happen in June, but this may change with the underwhelming progress on inflation. Furthermore, while the monthly gain was in line with expectations, the annual rate was slightly ahead of the 3.1% forecast from the Dow Jones consensus, CNBC reported.

The headline inflation was driven by a significant, 2.3% increase in energy costs and a 0.4% increase in shelter costs. According to the BLS, the increases in energy and shelter amounted to more than 60% of the total gain. Apart from this, the cost of gasoline also jumped 3.8% on the month and Airline fares posted a 3.6% increase. Consumers also faced a 0.3% rise in apparel prices and used vehicle prices were up 0.5%.



 

On the other hand, food costs which have been a long cause of concern, were flat for the month of February. Medical care services, which was the prime driver behind the CPI increase in January, decreased by 0.1% in the month of February.

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