WASHINGTON — The nation's unemployment rate dropped slightly to 7.2% in March, but showed signs of a weak industrial economy--particularly in oil, gas and manufacturing, the Labor Department said today.
The March jobless rate was only a tenth of a percentage point lower than the February rate of 7.3%. The rise between January and February had been the sharpest increase in six years, jumping from 6.7%. The White House had said that increase was an "aberration" and would improve.
The figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the booming service industry continued to grow, while America's industrial sector eroded even further in March. About 40,000 jobs were lost in the manufacturing of durable goods. Another 30,000 jobs vanished in the mining industry.
Oil, Gas Turmoil
The hard-hit mining industry is a classic example of the turmoil in the oil and gas extraction field, hit by declining prices and cutbacks in drilling and exploration. There are now only 900,000 mining workers --the lowest level since June, 1978.
In March, total manufacturing employment dropped by 130,000 jobs below the level of the previous year.
(California's jobless rate dipped in March to 6.9% from 7.2% the previous month, with most of the new jobs in the service industries. Los Angeles County's rate fell sharply, from 7.2% to 6%.)
The 7.2% figure nationwide shows that "last month's frightening jump upward was no fluke and indicates to me that there is precious little evidence that the economy is entering a boom," said Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.).
"These figures emphasize that the so-called 'economic recovery' has been stalled, since the unemployment rate has shown no real improvement in more than a year," said Murray Seeger of the AFL-CIO. "All of the hoopla and excitement about Wall Street financial speculation is not creating jobs."
Jerry Jasinowski, economist for the National Assn. of Manufacturers, said the figures "suggest that the economy has been weaker than earlier estimates."
"There is little likelihood of a major decline in unemployment now," Jasinowski said, suggesting that joblessness will not drop below 7% "before the middle of the year."
The jobless rate for most categories of workers was about the same in March and February. The unemployment rate for adult men was 6.2%; it was 6.6% for adult women and 18.2% for teen-agers.
Lower Latino Rate
The jobless rate for Latinos, however, was 10.3% in March, a significant drop of two percentage points from February.