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How much of March’s disappointing jobs report is just a blip?

You know that feeling when you can sense spring coming, and then you get walloped with another freeze? That’s March’s jobs report. For months, economists have been celebrating a healthy rise in payrolls. But on Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the economy added only 126,000 jobs — the lowest number since December 2013. The unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey, remained unchanged at 5.5 percent.

Not only did March’s payroll gains fall well short of the average 269,000 jobs added per month over the past year, but January and February’s impressive gains were revised downward by a collective 69,000 jobs.

The civilian labor force shrank by 91,000, while the population grew by its typical 180,000. The labor force participation rate dipped a tenth of a percent to 62.7 percent. Besides the fact that over 100,000 fewer people were unemployed, the contracting labor force could be one reason that the unemployment rate held at 5.5 percent. Our “Solman Scale U7,” which adds to the officially unemployed part-timers looking for full-time work and “discouraged” workers, fell to another all-time low since Making Sen$e began calculating it in 2011: 13.21 percent of the population was un- or underemployed in March.

Economists are always wary of making too much of one jobs report given the volatility of month-to-month data. But unlike meteorologists waiting for spring, economists don’t have a calendar of seasons; they can’t take comfort in knowing a full-blossomed recovery is on its way. Besides Friday’s disappointing report, there have been some worrying signs in the past several months, with the final reading of fourth quarter growth in 2014 clocking in at just 2.2 percent last week.

The past couple of years of data point to a slow, steady recovery that’s gradually picked up speed. The three-month average for payroll gains stands at nearly 200,000 jobs per month. The Peterson Institute’s Justin Wolfers was quick to call the report “disappointing” on Twitter Friday morning, but he also contextualized the report by saying, “If you had told me a couple of years ago that jobs growth over a 3-month period averaged nearly 200k, I would have been thrilled.”

American Enterprise Institute economist Michael Strain agreed that the gains in previous sunny reports may have been overstated.

But Wolfers also picked up on an interesting change in BLS’ methodology, which he also noted on Twitter.

The fact that the margin of error grew to plus or minus 105,000 jobs added (it was already fairly large at plus or minus 90,000), means that March’s payroll total could just as easily be 231,000 or 21,000!

An obvious culprit for slower job growth is the harsh winter and heavy snows that burdened parts of the country. The fallout from declining oil prices is also thought to have played a role.

One bright spot in March’s report is wages. Average hourly earnings increased by 7 cents to $24.86. That’s a big increase — such a big increase, in fact, that some economists are skeptical. As Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker cautioned us when average hourly wages shot up 9 cents in November’s report, one month’s strong gains are usually compensating for a previous month’s slowdown.

But March’s report, Baker wrote Friday, “does appear to be evidence of accelerating wage growth.” Three months makes a trend in a way that one month does not. He notes on his blog that average wage growth over the past three months is now 2.8 percent — higher than the 2.1 percent for the year.

The stock market is closed for Good Friday, but all eyes will be watching how the market responds to this latest report on Monday, mostly because of what it means for the Fed. At her latest Federal Open Market Committee press conference, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said a June rate hike was still on the table. But the economic forecasts the Fed released at that March meeting reflected recent slowed growth and told a more dovish story about the committee’s intentions. March’s unemployment report amplifies those concerns about the economy and makes a June rate hike more unlikely.

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