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Local Governments Cut 15,000 Workers, And Food Stamp Participation Keeps Climbing

The March employment report contained good news for the private side of the U.S. economy -- 216,000 net new jobs, and a nudge down in the unemployment rate to 8.8 percent, and the stock market loves it. But the news is not all happy: for instance, my colleague Jill Schlesinger reports on the disparity in paychecks between the guys in the corner office and the rest of us. I'm here with a reminder of what's happening on the lower end -- layoffs in government and a continuing rise in the SNAP program, or food stamps.

Don't get me wrong -- I am glad to see the employment rolls rising. Beyond the 216,000 jobs gained in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised the increases in several previous months. However, the labor force did not grow much, and the numbers of underemployed people and those "marginally attached" to work are still high.

Local governments cut 15,000 workers during the month, mostly in education. (I wrote about the number of people employed in state and local government recently.) Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008, says the Labor Department.

Also rising during March was participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's SNAP program, perhaps better known as food stamps, although the paper stamps are no longer involved. At the end of January, the most recent report, 20.7 million households were in SNAP, up 14.5 percent from a year earlier.

There are still 13.5 million people unemployed, and the actual number of people working is essentially unchanged from last March, even though the population is nearly two million higher. The labor force is smaller than it was a year ago, and the "full" U-6 unemployment rate remains high, at 15.7 percent.