FORTUNE -- Private sector jobs finally surpassed their previous peak in 2008, according to March's jobs report. The data bore some cheery news this morning, but it's hard to get too excited once we take a closer look.
While the total number of jobs in the economy remains below its pre-crisis peak because of large drops in government employment in recent years, the fact that private sector employment has recovered is a symbolic milestone showing the strides the economy has made since the darkest days of the financial crisis. But just because we've reached that milestone, and because the BLS announced Friday morning that the economy added a pretty healthy 192,000 jobs in March, doesn't mean the employment recovery has reached escape velocity. Going forward, here are three reasons to be concerned about the jobs picture:
1. Average hourly wages fell in March: The best news in the February jobs report was that Americans saw a pretty big jump in their pay -- 9 cents per hour on average. If that trend had continued for a year, that would have resulted in a more than 4% annual increase in wages, well above expectations for inflation. Instead, this measure took a step backward in March with average hourly wages falling by one cent to $24.30 per hour. Rising wages will have to be a part of any meaningful, healthy recovery, as higher wages enable workers to spend more in an economy driven by consumer purchases.
2. The unemployment rate(s) are stuck in neutral: After steadily falling throughout 2013, the standard measure of unemployment has remained stuck around 6.7% since December. The same goes for the broader measures of unemployment like the U-6 rate, which also includes folks who are working part-time but want a full-time job, and those who have given up looking for a job out of frustration. While that figure has also declined significantly from last year, it has been stagnant so far this year, and actually increased in March from 12.6% to 12.7%.
3. There was no springtime bounce in the numbers: Economists had blamed a lot of the weak economic data that came in over the winter on unseasonably cold weather across much of the U.S. That's why they didn't fret too much over the sharp decline in job growth we saw in December and January. The reason why weather-related weakness isn't something that you should worry about, however, is that the data tends to overcompensate once the weather warms again. Folks might be kept home from work or delay big purchases because of the snow, but eventually they'll get back to business. But jobs numbers today didn't really show a bounce-back in data as much as a return to the previous trend. Therefore, the average job growth we've seen in 2014 (178,000 per month) trails the job growth we saw last year (194,000 per month).
All in all, this wasn't a bad report -- the fact that the labor participation rate increased slightly is a great sign, while continued job growth in the construction industry is good news for those expecting the real estate market to power the economic recovery in 2014. But anyone taking too much solace in the fact that private payrolls have reached new highs should be aware that significant challenges for the labor market remain.
Data from the Brookings Institution shows that teen employment declined 42% from 2000-2011. What is it with kids these days?
FORTUNE -- The job market isn't great for anyone these days, but for teenagers, the picture is downright dismal.
According to a new study released last Friday by the Brookings Institution, the employment rate for teens aged 16-19 has fallen from 45% in 2000 to 26% in 2011, the lowest rate for MOREChristopher Matthews - Mar 17, 2014 2:54 PM ET
Amid a looming workforce shortage, women will need to assume a significantly more prominent role in the workforce.
FORTUNE -- Sheryl Sandberg has been urging women to lean in at work, but over the course of the next generation, women might not have much of a choice in the matter.
That's one conclusion you have to draw from the stark demographic realities outlined in economist Milton Ezrati's forthcoming book Thirty Tomorrows, which analyzes the MOREChristopher Matthews - Mar 12, 2014 9:47 AM ET
Weather was a big factor last month, but it's not slowing the economy as much as some people think.
FORTUNE -- If it weren't for the cold and snow, February's jobs report would have registered as the strongest monthly gain in nearly four years. Adjusted for the weather, the economy added 468,000 jobs in February. (For how I calculated that, read this.) That would rank as the second-best monthly jobs gain MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Mar 7, 2014 12:38 PM ET
The labor market is weak. Period.Stephen Gandel, senior editor - Feb 7, 2014 1:29 PM ET
Aren't there better things we can talk about other than the weather? Let's talk about it.Stephen Gandel, senior editor - Feb 6, 2014 2:07 PM ET
The U.S. workforce is shrinking, but that's not because Americans in their prime working years are dropping out.
FORTUNE -- Where have all the workers gone?
The U.S. labor force has dropped by six million. Workers began to disappear during the Great Recession, but it has continued even after the economy has improved. So what's going on?
One answer is demographics. Back in 2006, a paper from a number of Fed economists, predicted MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Jan 14, 2014 5:00 AM ET
Friday's disappointing jobs report raises the question of whether the Federal Reserve moved too quickly to reduce its bond-buying stimulus efforts.Nin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Jan 10, 2014 11:45 AM ET
November's jobs report shows the U.S. created slightly more middle-wage jobs and a bit fewer lower-wage gigs. But we're certainly not out of the woods yet.Nin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Dec 6, 2013 1:18 PM ET
Some worry that United States is destined to become a nation of part-timers, but a new report suggests that the growth in part-time work is only a temporary symptom of a slow economic recovery.Nin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Oct 9, 2013 10:47 AM ET
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