Economy added 162,000 jobs in March; unemployment holds steady

The economy added 162,000 jobs in March, providing a significant political boost to congressional Democrats and the Obama administration.

While the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, the job growth is the greatest the economy has seen in three years.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hailed the numbers and said Democrats would move forward with a job-creating agenda.

"Today’s jobs report offers optimism that the economic recovery is starting to reach America’s workers," Pelosi said in a statement.

Democrats plan to put their emphasis on the economy and jobs now that the brutal healthcare fight is behind them.

Pelosi said Democrats would continue a pro-jobs agenda, and claimed that healthcare reform will create 4 million new jobs over the next decade.

"Today's jobs report is hopeful news, but we are not finished," Pelosi said.

Republicans have insisted the healthcare law will hurt the economy and kill jobs, and they continued to press that theme in their reactions to the new jobs news.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) released a statement that said any report showing the economy added jobs “is clearly a better alternative to one showing that it lost more jobs.”

“Yet we must set our sights higher, our goals larger, and our actions bolder,” Cantor continued. “Americans deserve far more than the up-and-down, roller coaster-like unemployment reports of the past few months.”

Hiring for the 2010 Census did not appear to have skewed the numbers as much as some had expected.

The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 48,000 temporary workers had been hired in March by the Census Bureau.

The jump in jobs also reflected increased hiring in manufacturing (17,000), healthcare (27,000), construction (15,000), mining (8,000) and temporary help services (40,000).

Labor also revised its job figures for January and February.

The new January numbers show the economy created 14,000 jobs that month instead of losing 26,000, as was previously reported.

In February, Labor revised its figures to show the economy lost 14,000 jobs instead of the 36,000 jobs initially reported.

Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, said March's numbers and the revised figures from the previous two months show a dramatic change from last year.

"Today's employment report shows continued signs of gradual labor market healing," said Romer, who added that there would likely be bumps in the road ahead.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the March jobs report "very encouraging."

While Gibbs hailed the best numbers in three years as "important progress," he insisted that "the hard work continues on improving our economy."

Gibbs told reporters in his West Wing office Friday morning that there was no jobs report announcement that could have come that would have led the White House to "announce the mission had been accomplished."

President Barack Obama is set to speak about the employment situation and the economy in an address in North Carolina later Friday.

The unemployment figures double with good news for the administration from the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial rose on Thursday to close near 11,000. Markets are closed Friday.

The labor report isn’t all rosy.

The total number of unemployed people held steady at 15 million, and the number of long-term unemployed, those who have been without jobs for 27 weeks or longer, rose by 414,000 to 6.5 million.

But the numbers also reflect a huge change from a year ago, when the country was still losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. In March 2009, the economy shed 753,000 jobs.

The administration has warned that the unemployment rate is likely to remain high throughout the year.

One reason is that many workers have given up looking for work and are not counted as unemployed in the monthly reports. As those people look to return to the work force, it will increase the pressure on the economy to create jobs.

The Democratic National Committee pounced on the jobs news, e-mailing reporters news stories highlighting the figures.

This story was updated at 12:33 p.m.