A less-than-stellar employment increase of 120,000 jobs for the month of March should not be too much cause for concern for the trucking industry, as three-month rolling average for job creation continues to signal growth for the U.S. economy, albeit at a very slow pace.

“A one-month downshift in the rate of job creation isn’t too much cause for concern at this point,” Eric Starks, president of FTR Associates, told Fleet Owner.

“Job creation is an indication of two things: what is the economy doing right now in terms of growth and is such growth sustainable for the future,” he pointed out. “From that perspective, you need to exceed an average of 200,000 jobs created per month to be on a sustainable growth track, and right now, including March’s numbers, that average is at 210,000. That means the recovery is still self-sustaining, just not really strong.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment increased by 120,000 jobs in March compared to 240,000 in February, with the unemployment rate little changed at 8.2%. All told, 12.7 million U.S. workers are unemployed, with 42.5% out of work six months or more, the agency said.

Other economists, however, are concerned that the slowdown in job creation signals rougher-than-expected sailing ahead for the U.S. economy.

“March came in like a lion on the job-front, but went out tempered by future job growth indicators,” noted William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

“Overall, our monthly economic survey for March anticipates some strength in the job creation number with little change in the unemployment rate,” he added. “With job openings and plans for job creation both falling, prospects for a surge in job creation in the small business sector are still not promising.”

According to NFIB’s poll of 757 randomly-sampled members, 44% of small business owners hired or tried to hire in the last three months with 32% reporting few or no qualified applicants for positions.

“Many small firms are struggling to find qualified applicants for available jobs,” Dunkelberg pointed out. “And while firms have eased firings, meaning initial claims for unemployment now hovers around 360,000 per week, they haven’t resumed strong hiring.”

Hard-to-fill job openings are a strong predictor of the unemployment rate and indicates that the rate is likely to rise, other things being equal, he said.

“This is reinforced by the fourth month of decline in the net percent of owners planning to create new jobs, noted Dunkelberg. “March’s ‘net zero’ reading was four points lower than February and seven points lower than last November. With a ‘net zero’ percent planning to create new jobs, there is little reason to be optimistic about job growth.”