Employers added 192,000 jobs in March as milder weather helped propel the labor market out of its winter doldrums.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7%, despite a surge in job growth, because there were more people looking for jobs, including previously discouraged workers, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists surveyed by Action Economics estimated that 195,000 jobs were added last month.
Businesses added 192,000 jobs, fueled by strong gains in professional and business services and health and education. Private-sector payrolls have now exceeded their level in December 2007, when the Great Recession began. Employment for federal, state and local governments was unchanged.
Also encouraging is that job gains for January and February were revised up by a total 37,000, meaning a winter of weak job growth was not as feeble as believed. January's was revised to 144,000 from 129,000 and February's to 197,000 from 175,000.
Some other labor market indicators were also positive. The average workweek rose to 34.5 hours from 34.3 hours amid the better weather. Average hourly earnings dipped one cent, however, to $24.30.
And the share of people working or looking for work rose to 63.2% from 63% in February and a historical low of 62.8% in December. The meager portion of people in the labor force has worried economists because while many of those dropping out were retiring Baby Boomers, a large number were discouraged workers.
"It's a signal that (better job prospects) are bringing people back into the labor force," says economist James Marple of TD Economics.
Also, the number of Americans out of work at least six months fell by 110,000 to 3.7 million, though they still comprise 36% of the unemployed
A broader measure of joblessness that includes part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs and those who've given up looking for work, as well as the unemployed — ticked up to 12.7% from 12.6%.
Many analysts had predicted the labor market would pick up substantially in March after cold and stormy weather helped hold down job gains to a monthly average of 141,000 from December through February. Employees who stayed home because of snow during parts of those months would likely be back at work, economists said, and firms would resume hiring that had been deferred.
That largely is what happened, with the number of people who said they couldn't work because of weather falling to its historical average in March after rising sharply in previous months. Still, Marple expects a further catch-up effect for the adverse weather could boost payroll gains in April and May as well.
Last month, March, professional and business services led job gains with 57,000. Education and health added 34,000 and leisure and hospitality, 29,000. Construction companies added 19,000 jobs amid a housing recovery, but manufacturers cut 1,000.
Measures of manufacturing and service-sector activity out this week showed modest improvement in March, though some weather impact was still evident. Initial jobless claims— a barometer of layoffs — have trended over the past month.
Other economists believe other factors may be hampering the economy and labor market, such as higher interest rates and reduced production after businesses stocked their shelves aggressively the second half of last year.