WASHINGTON -- Nearly half a million Americans left the labor force in March, the U.S. Labor Department announced Friday, causing the unemployment rate to decline from 7.7 to 7.6 percent.
Part of the reason fewer people are participating in the labor force is that the baby boomers are hitting retirement, but another part is that the economy is lousy. Employers added only 88,000 jobs in March, the fewest in any month since June.
"This should be a wake-up call," Mike Evangelist, a policy analyst for worker advocacy group the National Employment Law Project, said in an interview. "We had had pretty consistent job growth the last couple months, and it just so happens the month they enacted all these austerity measures we had terrible growth."
Job creation slowed in the same month federal policymakers pursued significant budget cuts known as sequestration, the latest and greatest in a series of reductions to government spending. The cuts have already resulted in layoffs and furlough notices for some federal workers. New unemployment claims rose sharply last week.
The number of long-term jobless declined slightly from 4.8 million to 4.6 million in March, though the decline probably has as much to do with hiring as people giving up on their search for jobs. Workers are considered long-term unemployed if they've been looking for work for at least six months. A person who hasn't tried to find a job within four weeks of the government's survey doesn't count as unemployed at all.