Bad weather and low oil prices curb U.S. job growth

The pace of job growth in the United States has slowed as the effects of inclement winter weather and lower oil prices show up in the latest labor estimates.

According to the Department of Labor, nonfarm payrolls grew 126,000 in March, less than half the average monthly increase over the past year. Estimates for total payroll gains in January and February also were revised downward.

The U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5 percent in March.

The latest increase in nonfarm payrolls was the smallest since December 2013 and  143,000 less than the average monthly gain of 269,000 over the past year. The March numbers also broke a year-long streak of monthly gains above 200,000.

Initial estimates for job gains in January and February were revised downward a total of 69,000 to 465,000.

Analysts blamed the decrease on harsh winter weather in many parts of the country as well as a slowdown in energy development related to low oil prices.

Meanwhile, 2.6 million people were counted among the long-term unemployed who’ve been out of work 27 weeks or longer. Another 6.7 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours have been cut or they’re unable to find full-time positions.

Professional and business services added 40,000 net new jobs, while employment increased 26,000 in retail trades, 22,000 in health care and 9,000 at food services and drinking places.

The mining sector, which includes oil exploration and development, shed 11,000 net jobs. The sector has lost 30,000 over the past three months.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged down a tenth of an hour to 34.5 hours in March. The average manufacturing workweek slipped a tenth of an hour to 40.9 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose 7 cents to $24.86 in March. Average hourly earnings have increased 2.1 percent over the past year.