U.S. Added 273,000 Jobs in February; Unemployment at 3.5%

on Mar6
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At Milwaukee Electronics, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of circuit boards, the warnings from Asian suppliers started coming in shortly after the Lunar New Year holiday in February: Prepare for delays.

“Our component vendors are telling us to brace for shortages, potentially some substantial ones,” said Duane Benson, the company’s director of marketing.

In response, the company has been saving up inventory, reaching out to suppliers to identify potential delays and working with customers to adjust timelines. What it has not had to do, however, is cut jobs or reduce hours.

In the short term, the outbreak might even be good for business. The company’s Oregon-based Screaming Circuits division, which usually handles smaller, shorter-deadline orders, has had a surge in inquiries from customers looking to bring production back from China, at least temporarily.

“We started getting calls from folks who typically send stuff offshore,” Mr. Benson said.

Of course, if disruptions persist, Screaming Circuits, too, might struggle to get the parts it needs to fill orders. If it has to give up business, it could be forced to make harder choices. But Mr. Benson said the company would try to avoid cutting jobs.

Jobless claims throughout the United States have remained at rock-bottom levels.

Over the next couple of months, economists will be watching the job market closely for signs that the outbreak is starting to affect the broader economy. If people delay vacations or cut back on restaurant meals out of fear of the virus, that could hurt some businesses.

“Where it’s likely to affect the labor market is in reduced hours for service workers,” said Diane Lim, an economist at the Penn Wharton Budget Model. “Entertainment, hospitality, food and lodging, service jobs they won’t lose their jobs but will probably get a cut in hours.”

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