But the nation’s jobless rate edged higher, to 5 percent from 4.9 percent in the prior two months, as more people entered the labor force, the government said Friday. And the American manufacturing industry and the mining sector, hurt by weak exports and soft commodity prices, continued to shed payrolls.
Employers added a seasonally adjusted 215,000 jobs last month, many of them at retail, health care and construction businesses. The job growth was in line with analysts’ expectations, and follows payroll gains of 245,000 in February and 168,000 in January.
Although the U.S. economic recovery, nearing the end of seven years, is advancing at a relatively lackluster rate, hiring has proved resilient. Monthly job growth has averaged 209,000 in the first quarter, down slightly from an average of 229,000 for all of last year.
The recent level of job gains is more than enough to absorb the growing population of workers. With continued hiring and wages showing signs of rising — average hourly earnings went up a solid 7 cents last month to $25.43 after dropping 2 cents in February — more workers are entering or re-entering the job market.
That pushed up the share of the working-age population with jobs or looking for work last month, to 63 percent, after falling to a 39-year-low of 62.4 percent last fall.
An improving labor market is central in the Federal Reserve’s thinking about when it will next raise interest rates after lifting it from near zero last December. While Friday’s jobs report will be seen as encouraging, Fed Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen this week reinforced market expectations that the central bank would move very gradually in increasing borrowing rates, given the risks and what she called the “considerable uncertainty” in the outlook.
An increase in returning workers could hold down wage gains as employers have a larger supply of people to draw from, and it could also push up the jobless rate, as it did last month. Analysts had expected the unemployment rate last month to hold at 4.9 percent.
An alternative measure of employment and underemployment, which includes part-time workers who want full-time jobs, also ticked higher in March, to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent the previous month.
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