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More US Jobs Added in March

FILE: Employees work at a restaurant in Chicago, Thursday, March 23, 2023. On Friday, April 7, the U.S. government issued the March jobs report showing 236,000 new hires.

WASHINGTON — America’s employers added a solid 236,000 jobs in March, suggesting that the economy remains on solid footing despite the nine interest rate hikes the Federal Reserve has imposed over the past year in its drive to tame inflation.

In its report Friday, the government also said the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, just above the 53-year low of 3.4% set in January.

Though unemployment remains higher for people of color than for White Americans, the unemployment rate for Black workers fell last month to 5% — the lowest jobless rate for African Americans in government records dating to 1972.

In another sign that might reassure the Fed's inflation fighters, a substantial 480,000 Americans began looking for work in March. Typically, the bigger the supply of job seekers, the less pressure employers feel to raise wages. The result is often an easing of inflation pressures.

The U.S. Labor Department also revised downward its estimate of job growth in January and February by a combined 17,000.

Last month’s job growth was led by the leisure and hospitality category, which added 72,000. Among that sector’s industries, restaurants and bars gained 50,000.

State and local governments added 39,000, healthcare companies 34,000. But construction companies cut 9,000 jobs, that sector's first such decline since January 2022. And factories reduced payrolls slightly for a second straight month, reflecting a slowdown in U.S. manufacturing.

Average hourly wages were up 4.2% from 12 months earlier, down sharply from a 4.6% year-over-year increase in February.

Measured month to month, wages rose 0.3% from February to March, a tick up from a mild 0.2% gain from January to February. But even that figure marked a slowdown from average wage increases in the final months of 2022.

The March numbers are the last jobs report the Fed will see before its next meeting May 2-3. But its policymakers will gain a clearer view of inflationary pressures next week, when the Labor Department will issue reports on prices at the consumer and wholesale levels.