Economy Watch: Most Industries Hiring in February; Trade Deficit Drops

Most categories of employment saw some kind of net increase during February. Also, total January exports and imports resulted in a U.S. goods and services deficit of $39.1 billion, down from $42 billion in January 2013.

The stronger increase in U.S. jobs in February (up 175,000) was something of a relief after the unexpectedly weak numbers in December and January, which themselves were revised upward by a total of 25,000 for the two months combined. Despite the frosty weather, most categories of employment saw some kind of net increase during February, though there were some exceptions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of the big winners for the month was professional and business services, which added a net of 79,000 positions in February, with gains in accounting and bookkeeping services, temporary help services, and in services to buildings and dwellings. Over the previous 12 months, professional and business services added an average of 56,000 jobs per month.

Other gainers for the month included food services and drinking places (up 21,000), as well as wholesale trade and construction, both of which were up 15,000 jobs each in February. Still, the increase in construction hiring, which was mostly in heavy and civil engineering construction, wasn’t nearly as much as in January, when the industry added 48,000 positions. Over the last year, construction has added 152,000 jobs.

As an industry category, information was the big loser in February, down 16,000 jobs. Most of the decline occurred in motion picture and sound recording (down 14,000), but that business tends to be volatile from month to month. Retail also shed jobs during the month, but only 4,000, not nearly as many as the 13,000 lost in January.

The BLS also reported on Friday that the number of long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more) increased by 203,000, to 3.8 million, but remains down by 901,000 since February 2013. The long-term unemployed account for 37 percent of the total unemployed population.

Also in February, 2.3 million people were “marginally attached” to the labor force, a decline of 285,000 over the year. They don’t have jobs, but they want them, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. This group doesn’t officially count as unemployed because they haven’t looked for work in the four weeks preceding the survey. Among the marginally attached, there were 755,000 “discouraged workers” in February, down by 130,000 from a year earlier. Discouraged workers aren’t currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

Trade Deficit Drops Because of Oil

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported on Friday that total January exports of $192.5 billion and imports of $231.6 billion resulted in a U.S. goods and services deficit of $39.1 billion, up from $39 billion in December, but down from $42 billion in January 2013. The main reason for the slow slide in the trade deficit is the decreasing price of oil on international markets, down from about $94 a barrel a year ago to about $90.20 a barrel in early 2014.

Even so, the price of gasoline is rising domestically, possibly putting pressure on consumer spending as the nation thaws from its difficult winter. According to AAA, the average price nationwide for a gallon of regular was $3.488 on Sunday, up from $3.456 a week earlier, and $3.269 a month ago (but still below $3.703, where the price stood a year ago).

Wall Street ended Friday mixed, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 30.83 points, or 0.19 percent, and the S&P 500 up a scant 0.05 percent. The Nasdaq lost 0.37 percent. For its part, the S&P 500 closed at a record high on Friday, and happens to be up about 178 percent since its most recent trough in the market, which was five years ago, on March 9, 2009.