U.S. adds 20,000 jobs in February, including 4,100 in accounting

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Employers added only 20,000 jobs in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, including 4,100 in accounting and bookkeeping services, although the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percent to 3.8 percent and average wages also increased.

Employment in professional and business services, such as accounting, along with health care and wholesale trade continued to trend upward last month, but construction employment decreased.

The number of unemployed fell by 300,000 to 6.2 million, though the labor force participation rate held at 63.2 percent in February and has changed little so far this year. Average hourly earnings rose by 11 cents to $27.66, after a 2-cent gain in January. Over the course of the year, average hourly earnings have increased 3.4 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees also increased 8 cents to $23.18 in February.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised upward the employment numbers for December and January. For December, the number was revised upward from 222,000 to 227,000, and for January it went from 304,000 to 311,000. With the two revisions, employment gains in December and January combined were 12,000 more than the BLS had previously reported. Despite the upward revisions for December and January, the 20,000 jobs added last month came well below analyst forecasts.

Alan Jagnandan, vice president of major accounts at the staffing firm LaSalle Networks, prefers to take a long-term view of the hiring trends. “When you look at the trailing two months, with the 20,000 jobs added this month we’re still on average around 170,000 to 180,000 jobs per month,” he said. “I’m not seeing any of our clients slow down, specifically in the accounting and finance space. It’s quite the opposite. Part of it has to do with our overall economy getting closer to full employment, especially with degreed talent. Wages have gone up, which is the bright side of the report today, and that is definitely a trend that we’re seeing. Over the last 12 to 18 months, salaries in the finance and accounting space have gone up around 10 percent for degreed analysts and degreed accountants. But there’s also a scarcity for non-degreed, more clerical back-office roles. The demand is high, and there’s a scarcity of good talent. You’re seeing wages go up a couple of dollars an hour for those folks as well, which is sizable. I call it a talent arms race.”

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