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US payrolls were likely 306,000 lower than previously estimated

A 'Now Hiring' sign posted outside of a restaurant looking to hire workers on May 5, 2023, in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

U.S. job growth was probably less robust in the year through March than previously reported, according to government data released Wednesday.

The number of workers on payrolls will likely be revised down by 306,000 for March of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary benchmark revision. The downward adjustment was smaller than some economists expected.

The final figures are due early next year.

Last year, the government’s jobs reports showed hotter-than-expected payroll growth nearly every month. That persistent strength surprised economists time and again and was a key reason behind steady interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

While the preliminary estimate suggests that strength was somewhat overstated, it doesn’t fundamentally alter the picture of a resilient and robust labor market that’s gradually cooling. With the latest estimate, March payrolls would be 0.2% less than the published figure of 155.5 million.

The biggest downward adjustments were in transportation and warehousing, as well as professional and business services. Retail and wholesale trade payrolls are estimated to be revised higher.

Once a year, the BLS benchmarks the March payrolls level to a more accurate but less timely data source called the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages that’s based on state unemployment insurance tax records and covers nearly all US jobs.

When the March payrolls figures are aligned to that count, the change is proportionally distributed across the year ended in March. First-quarter QCEW figures were also released Wednesday.

Leading up to the data release, several economists had pointed out the discrepancy between the pace of payrolls growth and the weaker QCEW data through the end of 2022.

Prior to the revisions, which will be incorporated into the data series with the release of the January jobs report in February 2024, employment gains averaged about 343,000 a month in the year through March. During that period, the unemployment rate hovered at or near its lowest level in decades.


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