ADP reports "unexpected" decline in payroll employment for March

The Wall Street Journal gets into the favorite-adverb act today, but perhaps they have an excuse.  The White House sent signals this week that the job numbers for March would look healthier than those months preceding it.  Given that, the news that private-sector payrolls declined yet again may have been “unexpected” for the WSJ:

Private payrolls unexpectedly fell in March, according to data released Wednesday.

Private-sector jobs in the U.S. dropped by 23,000 this month, according to a national employment report published Wednesday by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy firm Macroeconomic Advisers.

The ADP survey tallies only private-sector jobs, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nonfarm payroll data, to be released Friday, include government workers. The addition of workers for the 2010 census is expected to lift federal government payrolls.

The ADP number compares with a 50,000 gain projected by economists in a Dow Jones Newswires survey. The change in employment from January 2010 to February 2010 was revised down slightly, from a decline of 20,000 to a decline of 24,000.

The Wall Street Journal expects to see a Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Friday that shows a jump of 200,000 in employment — while keeping the jobless rate at 9.7%.  Apparently, so does the Washington Post:

On Friday, the Labor Department will release a closely watched March employment report expected to show the strongest job growth in three years, driven by stabilization in the economy and a rebound from February snowstorms.

The Post also finally finds someone to blame for lagging unemployment …. workers:

One of the great surprises of the economic downturn that began 27 months ago is this: Businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.

That means high-level gains in productivity — which in the long run is the key to a higher standard of living but in the short run contributes to sky-high unemployment. So long as employers can squeeze dramatically higher output from every worker, they won’t need to hire again despite the growing economy. …

Instead companies squeezed more work out of remaining employees, accounting for a 3.8 percent boost in worker productivity in 2009, the best in seven years. Which raises the question: Why couldn’t companies have achieved those gains back when the economy was in better shape? The answer to that may lie on the other side of the equation — employees.

Workers were in a panic of their own in 2009. Fearful of losing their jobs, people seem to have become more willing to stretch themselves to the limit to get more done in any given hour of work. And they have been tolerant of furloughs and cutbacks in hours, which in better times would drive them to find a new employer. This has given companies the leeway to cut back without the fear of losing valuable employees for good.

Those big employment numbers may still arrive, the WSJ reports, but it will mainly be temp workers for the Census Bureau.  The private sector only gained in the service sector (+28,000 jobs), while losing factory jobs (-9,000) and small-business jobs (-12,000).  This time, the White House can’t blame the weather, either.

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