Economy adds 215K jobs in March
© Getty Images

Employers added a robust 215,000 jobs in March, slightly above expectations after a sluggish start to the year.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 5 percent from 4.9, holding around the lowest level in eight years, the Labor Department reported on Friday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Steady jobs growth is a sign that the economy is in good shape despite early-year turmoil in the stock market. In the past three months, job gains have averaged 209,000 per month.

“The March report is another rebuke to the Wall Street pessimism about an imminent downturn,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and president of the American Action Forum.

“The missing piece remains productivity growth. The policy implications are that a mix of structural reforms — tax, entitlement, regulation — and normalized monetary policy are needed,” Holtz-Eakin said.

The Federal Reserve is keeping a close eye on the jobs report.

“This is another solid jobs report that is likely to have little impact on the Fed decision later this month,” said Curt Long, chief economist with the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.

“Job growth is strong and more people are being pulled into the labor market, but that is nothing new,” Long said.

“For the dovish faction of the FOMC, notably Janet Yellen, concerns lie elsewhere, and the odds of an April rate hike are extremely remote.”

The economy grew at a 1.4 percent pace during the final three months of the year, and economists are projecting a 2 percent rate for the January-March period.

The good news on the unemployment rate: the March level increased because more people were looking for jobs.

The labor participation rate, which had sagged during the jobs recovery, rose for the fourth straight month to 63 percent in March, the same level as November 2013, up from a trough of 62.4 percent in September.

The number of people who reported having jobs in the household survey rose by 246,000, while the labor force showed an increase of 396,000.

Although still historically low, over the past six months the labor force participation rate has increased by 0.6 percentage points, the largest six-month increase since 1992.

The private sector has added 14.4 million jobs over 73 straight months, the longest streak on record.

“While these trends speak to the strength of the labor market recovery, more work remains to drive even faster wage growth, including investing in infrastructure and job training, implementing high-standards free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and raising the minimum wage,” said Jason FurmanJason FurmanEconomy adds 130K jobs in August, falling below expectations Homelessness and the high cost of living Trump looks for longer boost from economy MORE, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Construction employment rose by 37,000 in March; in the past year, the sector has added 301,000 jobs.

But manufacturing, which has been struggling with a strong dollar that makes U.S. goods more expensive abroad, lost 29,000 jobs last month, the biggest monthly drop since December 2009.

“It is clear hiring remains weak for manufacturers as they grapple with global headwinds and lingering anxieties about the overall economic outlook,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers. 

“We have begun to see some signs of stabilization for demand and production in other manufacturing data but that has not translated into jobs just yet,” Moutray said.

Mining employment fell 12,000 in March and, since hitting a peak in September 2014, has fallen by 185,000 jobs with sharp drop in crude oil prices.

Wages in March increased by 7 cents to $25.43, following a 2-cent decline in February. Average hourly earnings have risen by 2.3 percent in the past year.

January's jobs were revised down by 4,000 on Friday, falling to 168,000, while February's increased by 3,000 more jobs.

—Updated at 10:48 a.m.