US job growth healthy

WASHINGTON - Employers in the United States added jobs at a solid pace in March and hired more people in January and February than previously thought.

Friday's government report sent a reassuring signal that the US economy withstood a harsh winter that had slowed growth.

The economy gained 192,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said, slightly below February's revised total of 197,000. Employers added a combined 37,000 more jobs in January and February than previously estimated.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7%. But a half-million Americans started looking for work last month, and most of them found jobs. The increase in job-seekers is a sign that they were more optimistic about their prospects.

"We're back to where we were before the weather got bad," said John Canally, an economist at LPL Financial. "It's a nice, even report that suggests the labour market is expanding."

The job gains in March nearly matched last year's average monthly total, suggesting that the job market has mostly recovered from the previous months' severe winter weather.

The March report included one milestone: More than six years after the Great Recession began, private employers have finally regained all the jobs lost to the recession. They shed 8.8 million jobs in the downturn; they've since hired 8.9 million.

Still, the population has grown over that time, leaving the unemployment rate elevated.

The proportion of Americans in the labour force -- those either working or seeking work -- has rebounded this year after steady declines since the recession officially ended in June 2009.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted that the labour force increased by 1.5 million in the January-March quarter after shrinking by 500,000 last year.

Surveys by the Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, showed that both manufacturing and service companies expanded at a faster pace in March. Factories cranked out more goods and received slightly more orders, a good sign for future production. Service companies also received more orders.

Home sales and construction, however, have been weak in recent months. Sales of existing homes have fallen in six out of the past seven months. Cold weather has likely caused some of the decline.

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