Job growth boomed in March at the fastest pace since last summer as stronger economic growth and an aggressive vaccination effort pushed companies to step up hiring, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 916,000 for the month while the unemployment rate fell to 6%.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for an increase of 675,000 and an unemployment rate of 6%.
A more encompassing measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons dropped to 10.7% from 11.1% in February.
The labor force continued to grow after losing more than 6 million Americans at one point last year. Another 347,000 workers came back, bringing the labor force participation rate to 61.5%, compared to 63.3% in February 2020.
Leisure and hospitality, a sector critical to restoring the jobs market to its former strength, showed the strongest gains for the month with 280,000 new jobs. Bars and restaurants added 176,000 while arts, entertainment and recreation contributed 64,000 to the total.
Even with the continued gains, the sector remains 3.1 million below its pre-pandemic total in February 2020.
The report comes amid a slew of other indicators pointing to stronger growth as the U.S. tries to shake off the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. States and municipalities across the country continue to reopen after a year of operating at reduced capacity.
Business activity has returned to close to normal levels in much of the company despite the restrictions, with a tracker by Jeffries indicating that activity is at 93.5% of its pre-pandemic level.
Data from Homebase shows that employees working and hours worked both gained sharply over the past month, with significant improvements in both hospitality and entertainment. Those have been the hardest-hit sectors, but have improved over the past two months as governments have loosened up on some of the harshest restrictions on activity.
At the same time, manufacturing is enjoying a boom, with an Institute for Supply Management gauge of activity in the sector hitting its highest level since late 1983 in March.
The pace of gains combined with the unprecedented level of government stimulus has kindled worries about inflation, though Federal Reserve officials say any increases will be temporary.
The Fed is keeping a close eye on the jobs data, but policymakers have said repeatedly that even with the recent improvements the labor market is nowhere near a point that would push the central bank into raising interest rates.
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