Economy adds 98,000 jobs in March

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The U.S. economy added 98,000 jobs in March, far fewer than economists expected, but the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent, the Labor Department reported today.

The government said 56,000 jobs were added in professional and business services and 11,000 in mining. Jobs declined by 30,000 in the retail sector. Overall job growth for the month was the lowest since last May. The government revised its estimates of job gains for January and February downward by a total of 38,000. The increases have averaged 178,000 a month during the past three months.

Economists surveyed by Reuters expected companies to add 180,000 jobs during the month and economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected 175,000 new jobs.

Nonetheless, the unemployment rate was the lowest since May of 2007. Bloomberg said the fact that the jobless rate fell even as job creation did suggests that the market is returning to more normal conditions.

As the number of unemployed workers declines, companies have had to pay more to attract the people they want.

“Even if payrolls are slowing down, I’m not sure that that means the labor market is weakening,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC, told Bloomberg. “To the extent that it is slowing down or going to slow down, it’s probably more a function of tight supply than weakening demand.”

The government said average hourly earnings rose 0.2 percent from the previous month, compared with 0.3 percent in February, which was up 2.8 percent from a year earlier.

The number of people unemployed for less than five weeks declined by 232,000, to 2.3 million. The number of long-term unemployed — people who have been without a job for 27 weeks or longer — was little changed during the month at 1.7 million and accounted for 23.3 percent of the unemployed. During the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed people has declined by 526,000.

The government said the 5.6 million people who were employed part time for economic reasons was a figure that changed little in March, although it was down by 567,000 during the year. Those people, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find full-time jobs. In March, 1.6 million people were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. The data are not seasonally adjusted. Those people were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job at some time during the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work during the four weeks that preceded the survey.

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