Unemployment Rate Rises to 3.9 Percent in February

Employers added 275,000 jobs with gains occurring in healthcare, government, food services and drinking places, social assistance, and transportation and warehousing. Russell Riendeau of New Frontier Search Co. joins Hunt Scanlon to offer some perspectives on the hiring landscape in today’s economy.

March 8, 2024 – Employment rose by 275,000 in February as the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 3.9 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. The number of unemployed persons was 6.5 million in February. Job gains occurred in healthcare, in government, in food services and drinking places, in social assistance, and in transportation and warehousing.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult women (3.5 percent) and teenagers (12.5 percent) increased over the month. The jobless rates for adult men (3.5 percent), Whites (3.4 percent), Blacks (5.6 percent), Asians (3.4 percent), and Hispanics (5.0 percent) showed little or no change in February. Among the unemployed, the number of permanent job losers increased by 174,000 to 1.7 million in February. The number of people on temporary layoff was little changed at 827,000. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 1.2 million, was little changed in February. The long-term unemployed accounted for 18.7 percent of all unemployed people.

In February, the labor force participation rate was 62.5 percent for the third consecutive month, and the employment-population ratio was little changed at 60.1 percent. These measures showed little or no change over the year. The number of people employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.4 million, changed little in February. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs. In February, the number of people not in the labor force who currently want a job, at 5.7 million, was little changed. These individuals were not counted as unemployed because they were not actively looking for work during the four weeks preceding the survey or were unavailable to take a job.

Where Job Growth Occurred

• Healthcare added 67,000 jobs in February, above the average monthly gain of 58,000 over the prior 12 months. In February, job growth continued in ambulatory healthcare services (+28,000), hospitals (+28,000), and nursing and residential care facilities (+11,000).

• Government employment rose by 52,000 in February, about the same as the prior 12-month average gain (+53,000). Over the month, employment continued to trend up in local government, excluding education (+26,000) and federal government (+9,000).

• Employment in food services and drinking places increased by 42,000 in February, after changing little over the prior three months.

Related: How CHROs Can Steer the Ship to Success in 2024

• Social assistance added 24,000 jobs in February, about the same as the prior 12-month average gain of 23,000. Over the month, job growth continued in individual and family services (+19,000).

• Employment in transportation and warehousing rose by 20,000 in February. Couriers and messengers added 17,000 jobs, after losing 70,000 jobs over the prior 3 months. In February, job growth also occurred in air transportation (+4,000), while warehousing and storage lost 7,000 jobs. Employment in the transportation and warehousing industry is down by 144,000 since reaching a peak in July 2022.

• In February, employment continued to trend up in construction (+23,000), in line with the average monthly gain of 18,000 over the prior 12 months. Over the month, heavy and civil engineering construction added 13,000 jobs.

• Retail trade employment changed little in February (+19,000) and has shown little net change over the year. Over the month, job gains in general merchandise retailers (+17,000); health and personal care retailers (+6,000); and automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers (+5,000) were partially offset by job losses in building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (-6,000) and electronics and appliance retailers (-2,000).

• Employment showed little change over the month in other major industries, including mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; manufacturing; wholesale trade; information; financial activities; professional and business services; and other services.

Talent Expert Weighs In

Russ Riendeau, Ph.D., is senior partner and chief behavioral scientist with New Frontier Search Company, a retained search practice specializing in senior leadership, sales and sales management. He has been involved in over 6,000 searches with 1,000s of companies and verticals placing senior talent. The author/co-author of 11 books, numerous TEDx Talks, and a highly regarded keynote speaker, he also consults and writes about behavioral science topics and peak performance. Dr. Riendeau recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to gain some perspectives on the hiring landscape in today’s economy.

Russ, what are some top skills organizations are looking for in senior leaders today? 

A genuine sense of maturity around decision-making skills, empathy and a strategic process mindset. Leaders that have the courage and maturity to allow accountability to sink into an employee’s daily routine is critical to empowering workers, incenting them to learn and take a proactive approach to their careers  will build trust and reduce turnover. Interviewing skills are critical and rarely taught. Over 85 percent of senior leaders have never taken a formal interview training course in their life. Behavioral-based interview skills can save companies millions of dollars a year due to bad hires, lawsuits, severance packages, search firm fees, lost customers and embarrassment, bad press, bad deals, moral issues, to name a few. Nearly all bad hires can be traced back to faulty interview practices that did not flush out problems that would surface later. These skills all seem reasonable on paper, however, quite challenging to find and measure in a leader. Look for past records of accomplishments for proof. Look at what companies and cultures these professionals have matriculated to after college. Look at their income levels to test their pay to their value to the marketplace. Look at their job stability and explore how they made a mark on the business when they were there.

Why are decision-making skills so critical today? 

Decision-making skills is one of the most complex skills to learn as a business professional because decisions are made based on a totality of a life history. Geography, income levels, education, parenting styles, genetics, cultures, religions, illness, etc. impacts the psychological process of decisions. The decision you make tomorrow on some matter, will have been impacted on what you experienced yesterday. Self-awareness is critical. So, if you are a senior leader, how can you best assess your team’s skills? How can you be sure they are engaging in appropriate approaches to evaluate a situation, make corrections, absorb facts and outcome potentials that are right for your business—and not only right for that person’s current state? While this may sound a bit neurotic in considering, it can be the elephant in the room, if a leader is not skilled in evaluating of talent they hire. Leaders must really dive into discussions during interviews, for example, as to how this person came to make decisions in their career, college tracks; what  positions they pursued, hobbies, income levels, and the like. Look for strong patterns of logical, pragmatic decisions that also have an emotional component to them. We’re not robots, so we are all wired with an emotional ground  that is not 100 percent data driven. First impressions are dangerous to take the bait on too quickly.

What are some of critical decisions that leaders are facing today?

Trying to determine what is genuine desire and what is “confusing” desire in employee satisfaction is a major inflection point for managers right now. Today’s average employee puts excessive expectations on their day job to deliver joy, fulfillment, meaning, passion-and good pay—to their desk on a daily basis. In other words, the employee gives their job too much authority over their daily happiness. Why? They lack goal-setting skills and decision-making skills.

If a business professional is not able to recognize how and what kind of research one needs to  engage in to find the best use of their talents, passions, education and life goals, they will be a pawn in someone else’s chess game. They will find a job, but the job will not be compelling enough to sustain their happiness, thus the rapid job changes. We see more and more of this right now.

“There is always a shortage of talented people not quite sure what they want to invest their time and energy in to make a compelling career change.”

Have you witnessed a talent shortage or more difficulty finding executives today? If so, why has this occurred? 

I don’t think there’s ever been a shortage of talent, in my 39 years of doing executive search in North America. There is always a shortage of talented people not quite sure what they want to invest their time and energy in to make a compelling career change. Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” talks about the power of resistance that backs people into a corner as they wrestle with reasons and rationales as to why they should not tackle a tough problem, fix an addiction or commit to their career to become an expert. Resistance tempts one and opens a small window to escape the hard thinking to go the easy route to mediocre pay and work life satisfaction. So how do we deal with this reality? For one, leaders that can ask the right questions of their team to show how they can attain their goals by first understanding what their compelling reason is to commit, will succeed in attracting the top talent. This approach also requires working with search professionals that have demonstrated they have the maturity, training and perspective to deliver that message. Sounds like a self-serving statement, but research shows search professionals all have the same access to the same databases, websites, job boards, associations, etc., so it comes back to one’s ability to recognize the talent that the untrained search person overlooks. The trained, high-income workforce is skeptical right now. They went through the pandemic and watched the world change; watched how leaders succeeded and failed; watched how the marginal workers lost their jobs. They are cautious about changing, cautious about promises and mission statements; guarded about what they truly believe will make an impact on their future. Leaders must be able to deliver a message that resonates and has substance behind it to secure the interest in the best.

How do you think the job market will fair in 2024, do you expect increased hiring to continue?

2024 already has shown signs of leaders wanting to take advantage of having cash in their accounts, orders in the queue and they have the flexibility of upgrading their talent, and letting go of marginal performers that have not rebounded from the pandemic pressures. This confidence in the economy and business growth is a great opportunity to secure talent from companies where leadership is not as savvy to understanding the emotional impacts of workplace environments. I do think we will see a critical shift to how companies manage, incent, and measure remote workers. Again, research is confusing about better or worse productivity of remote workers, however, job satisfaction of remote workers is often tainted as positive because of the flexibility it offers to get non-work stuff done on company time. A false-positive could be happening in these self-reported surveys we see all the time. Regardless of what we hear from the political pundits right now, trying to make a case for their side to win, America’s economic data continues to show resilience, confidence and growth.

Related: Strategic Talent Acquisition Planning in 2024

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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