WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy posted its largest job gain in three years in March, while the unemployment rate remained at 9.7 percent for the third straight month.
The increase is the latest sign that the economic recovery is sustainable and healing in the job market is beginning. Still, the healing is likely to be slow, and most economists don't expect job creation to be fast enough this year to rapidly reduce the unemployment rate.
The Labor Department said employers added 162,000 jobs in March, the most since the recession began but below analysts' expectations of 190,000. The total includes 48,000 temporary workers hired for the U.S. Census, also fewer than many economists forecast.
Private employers added 123,000 jobs, the most since May 2007.
Manufacturers added 17,000 jobs, the third straight month of gains. Temporary help services added 40,000, while health care added 37,000. Leisure and hospitality added 22,000.
Even the beleaguered construction industry added 15,000 positions, though that likely reflects a rebound from February, when major snowstorms may have kept many construction workers off payrolls.
The average work week increased to 34 hours from 33.9, a positive sign. Most employers are likely to work current employees longer before they hire new workers.
The department also revised January's job total to show a gain of 14,000, up from a loss of 26,000. February's job numbers was also revised higher by 22,000.
Still, more Americans said they were working part-time even though they preferred full-time work. When they and discouraged workers who have given up searching for jobs are included, the "underemployment" rate ticked up to 16.9 percent from 16.8 percent.