Lots of people are surely looking at today's jobs headlines somewhat puzzled, asking one significant question: How can it be that hiring was much worse than expected in March and the unemployment rate still fell — to 7.6 percent?
The answer isn't a happy one. There are a couple of ways the unemployment rate can fall.
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we will speak with a Christian leader who's led his church to rethink both its politics and its worship. It's the Reverend Cecil Williams of San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church. He and his wife, who's also a church leader, will join us for a Faith Matters conversation in a few minutes.
The 11.7 million Americans searching for work got discouraging news Friday morning when the Labor Department said employers created only 88,000 jobs in March. The weak job growth comes at the same time benefits for the long-term unemployed are shrinking.
The smaller-than-expected increase in payrolls was a big disappointment, coming after a long stretch of much better results. Over the past year, employment growth has averaged 169,000 jobs a month.
But the nation's jobless rate still edged down to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent. That dip wasn't for a good reason, though: Nearly half a million fewer people were participating in the labor force. That smaller pool meant the jobless rate could tick down even as job growth was weak.
From 'Morning Edition': Yuki Noguchi talks with David Greene
Update at 8:41 a.m. ET.: Job Growth Slows Sharply, But Unemployment Rate Dips
Although economists had been expecting to hear that the U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in March, the news is out and the number is far less. Just 88,000 jobs were added to private and public payrolls, the Labor Department reports. The jobless rate still edged down to 7.6 percent — but only because nearly half a million fewer people were in the labor force.
Bitcoin is a virtual currency that's traded online. It's been on a wild ride lately, soaring in value during the Cyprus banking crisis. And this week, the price plummeted after a Bitcoin trading exchange was hacked.
Now former Enron CEO Jeffery Skilling could be released early from federal prison, as part of a reduced sentencing agreement under consideration at the Justice Department. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in the collapse of the energy trading giant.
The Labor Department on Friday reported the nation's unemployment rate inched down to 7.6 percent in March, the lowest rate in four years, mainly due to more people stopping their search for work. In February, the job rate was 7.7 percent.
The computer maker's chairman Ray Lane has stepped down as executive chairman. He's been on thin ice with shareholders after his role in acquiring a business software company ended up hurting HP's bottom line.
Let's go now to the Great Plains, where farmers are preparing for what could be a tough growing season. They are scrambling to find irrigation water, which is scarce in the midst of the region's persistent drought. In eastern Colorado, thirsty cities have gobbled up water rights for decades, selling what they don't need back to farmers.
As Luke Runyon from member station KUNC reports, the agreement only works when water is plentiful.
Fast-food restaurants were a little bit slower Thursday in New York City. Hundreds of workers staged a one-day strike in what organizers are calling the biggest job action ever in that industry. It's a growing segment of the economy, but workers complain that fast-food jobs don't pay enough to survive in New York City.
If you've applied for a mortgage recently, you know how hard it can be. The bank demands all kinds of obscure documents and wants proof of almost every asset you own. But an innovative mortgage program halfway around the world will evaluate your application without any extra documentation — and if you're approved, it will give you a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. There's just one catch: The mortgages are only for low-income people in Cambodia. The program is a throwback to the days when bankers got to know their customers — and trusted them.
OK. So Frommer's guidebooks will stay the same. "The Tonight Show" is changing. This is a long-running television network drama - the saga of NBC easing Jay Leno out of the chair. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Leno will be replaced next year by Jimmy Fallon, in a show based in New York City.
Bank foreclosures often force people out of their homes. Some houses re-sell, and new people move in. Five years ago, NPR's Emily Harris bought a house that sold in foreclosure. An evening ring at her doorbell led her to meet the person who had lived there before.
And today's last word in business is space memorabilia.
Heritage Auction house is selling items that have gone to the moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin's toothbrush could be yours with the right offer.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK. The bidding for this toothbrush - I hope they disinfect it - it's a light blue, Lactona tooth tip brush. The bidding starting at $9,000. The auction house is actually hoping that buyers will offer more than that.
After buying the company last year, Google decided to stop printing Frommer's travel guides. The founder of the brand now says Google has agreed to sell the company back to him. Arthur Frommer says he will continue to print the travel guides — in addition to publishing them electronically.
Steve Inskeep talks to David Wessel, economics editor of The Wall Street Journal, for a preview of what Friday's jobs report is likely to say about the U.S. economy. The stock market is setting records and though profits are up, wages are stagnant.
Lawyer Meredith Watts (left) visits client/patient Shirley Kimbrough at her apartment in north Akron, Ohio. Kimbrough is being helped by a program under which lawyers partner up with health providers to supply patients with legal advice.
The middle-income housing projects Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village sit on an 80-acre patch of Lower Manhattan. In 2006, they came to epitomize the lunatic excess of the housing boom when their 11,232 apartments sold for $5.4 billion. They were bought at a competitive auction by Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock Realty.
There's been increasing support for the number of H-1B visas, for highly skilled workers. Large tech companies are leading the push for the increase, but many of the visas go to workers at large consulting firms.
The tech industry wants more skilled workers — from overseas. Companies are lobbying hard for Congress to raise the limit on H-1B visas — visas for people with specialized skills — researchers, for instance, or software engineers.
Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, recently told NPR that more H-1B visas can't help but be good for the country.
Manufacturing in the U.S. still uses the most energy. But its share has been decreasing. That's partly because we've moved from energy-intensive manufacturing to a more service-based economy. And also partly because of a slowing population growth and improving energy efficiency.
Legal troubles keep mounting for hedge fund manager Steven Cohen and his firm SAC Capital. Today, an appeals court judge in New York reinstated a lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, accusing Cohen of fraud. Last week, one of his top lieutenants was charged with insider trading and he was the fifth person with the firm to face arrest.
Still, as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, U.S. officials have so far failed to bring charges against Cohen himself.