Grim February Employment Picture Shows 308,000 Job Losses

March 7, 2003 ( - The drumbeat of bad employment data continued Friday with word that the struggling economy gave up 308,000 non-farm jobs - the sharpest payroll plunge since November 2001.

The US Department of Labor (DoL) also reported that February’s jobless rate ticked up slightly from January’s 5.7% mark to 5.8%.

February’s job losses were widely distributed across industries, according to the DoL report. Job losses in the retail sector were especially steep, falling 92,000. Manufacturing jobs plunged by 53,000 and construction jobs tumbled 48,000.

Friday’s report was much gloomier than the forecast from economists in Reuters’ regular poll who had predicted an 8,000-job gain. Payrolls had risen by 185,000 in January, a number that was revised up from the originally reported 143,000 gain (See  Economy Piles on 143,000 New Jobs, Unemployment Rate Falls ).

The grim jobless picture only adds to the uncertainty about the economy’s health at a time when many analysts believe employers are still reluctant to boost  their payroll and companies are nervous about capital spending because of the threat of war with Iraq.  Although the consensus forecast of economists had projected a slight payroll rise, several analysts had been revising their forecasts to anticipate a possible decline after a raft of downbeat signals in recent days, including a spike in applications for jobless claims (See  Jobless Claims Rise by 12,000 in Latest Week).

Another sign of the continued weak labor market came from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which announced that planned job cuts in February were 138,177, up 5% from January (See  Job Cuts At Highest Level Since November, Firm Says ).