U.S. employers added jobs at a solid pace in March and hired more in January and February than previously thought. Friday's government report sent a reassuring signal that the economy withstood a harsh winter that might have slowed growth. But the numbers also added evidence that increased low-wage and temporary work might be the new reality of the American job market.
The economy gained 192,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said Friday, slightly below February's revised total of 197,000. Employers added a combined 37,000 more jobs in February and January than previously estimated.
The unemployment rate was unchanged, at 6.7 percent. But half a 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.
"This employment report should help put to rest fears that the economy was stalling as we entered the new year," tweeted Justin Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Michigan.
March's job gain nearly matches last year's average monthly increase, suggesting that the job market has mostly recovered, after disappointing numbers in December and January.
And the March report includes a milestone: More than six years after the Great Recession began, private employers have finally regained all the jobs lost to it. The employers 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.
Many economists expect hiring to average about 200,000 jobs a month for the rest of the year. Hiring at that pace should lower the unemployment rate and support steady growth.
Other recent economic data suggest that the economy is picking up from the winter freeze.
Auto sales jumped 6 percent last month, to 1.5 million, the most since November. That was a sign that Americans remain willing to spend on big purchases.
And surveys by the Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, showed that 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.
But the economic picture isn't all rosy. Following a trend of the past several years, many of the added jobs in March were either low-wage or temporary work: retail, leisure and hospitality were some of the biggest gainers last month. And temporary work accounted for 29,000 of the new jobs.
Economists say those numbers portray a mixed bag for the recovery and the future of America’s economy: on the one hand, temporary work is usually the first to uptick as employers test the waters before hiring full-time, but the continued dominance of low-wage jobs over higher-paying ones is likely to continue, even as the recession abates
“Growth in lower wage sectors – that’s part of a larger story of what’s happening to the nature of work in this economy,” said Gregory Acs, the director of the Income and Benefits Policy Center at The Urban Institute. “You have some folks getting really great high end jobs, some getting low-end jobs, and some of the middle skill jobs are a little harder to come by these days.”
Some other economic indicators paint a less sunny picture as well: Home sales and construction have been weak in recent months. Sales of existing homes have fallen in six out of the past seven months. Cold weather likely caused some of the decline. But higher mortgage rates, rising prices and a limited supply of available homes have also held back sales.
Al Jazeera and wire services