NEW YORK (
) -- The March jobs report offered unemployed Americans an unsympathetic reminder: keep searching.
Nonfarm payrolls in March increased by just 88,000, while economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting 200,000. And while the headline unemployment rate edged lower to 7.6%, from 7.7%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 496,000 individuals dropped from the labor force to bring the total number of citizens down to 90.48 million.
"I'm really surprised by it, I have to say. If you look at where the GDP and demand is striking in the first quarter, we're probably going to see [first quarter] GDP [growth] in excess of 3.5%," Aneta Markowska, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale, said in an interview.
Economists, investment strategists and a politician in interviews said they were optimistic about steady labor growth over the long term, but admitted that the March report was a reminder that job-hunters still face a challenging market.
March marked a 10-month low in employment growth, which on Friday sank major U.S. equity indices, led the FTSE in London and DAX in Frankfurt into deeper losses, and pushed the 10-year Treasury yield down to near 1.7%, while lifting gold to a two-week high.
ADP on Wednesday said that private sector payrolls in March rose by 158,000, which was less than the 200,000 that economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting. Jobless claims for the week ended March 30 jumped to 385,000, and the four-week moving average climbed 11,250 week-over-week for its highest level in 2013.
"In terms of people saying it's still tough to get a job and it doesn't feel like a very good market, I would say that's absolutely the case," said Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones. "The good news is it hasn't gotten worse, it's still making improvement, it's just not doing it at a pace that all of us would like to see."