After a disappointing drop in February, the nation’s job market leaped upward in March to post a gain of 196,000.
The Friday monthly report also showed that February’s number of new jobs was revised upward, to 33,000 from 20,000.
March figures represented the 102nd straight monthly gain.
The Labor Department also reported that the March unemployment rate was 3.8%, the same as the February percentage.
Average hourly earnings in March were 3.2% higher than a year earlier. That compares with a 3.4% year-over-year gain in February.
The gain in hiring, though widely forecast, will help clear some of the doubts hanging over the economy. Though the economy is expected to slow this year from the strong pace of 2018, Friday’s report was a welcome sign.
“We think the labor market is the strongest thing in the U.S. economy right now,” Luke Tilley, chief economist at Wilmington Trust said. “We’re encouraged by the wage gains.”
Martha Gimbel, research director at Indeed, a job-search site, said the number from last year was not sustainable.
“What’s more surprising is that we’re still adding an average of 180,000 jobs at this point in a recovery,” she said.
The Federal Reserve, which helps steer the economy with setting interest rates, has signaled that it would probably not raise rates this year. By holding rates steady, most mortgages and car loans are not likely to get more expensive.
America’s economy is still enjoying one of its longest expansions on record. It has now produced more than 21 million jobs since the labor market bottomed out in 2010 and the unemployment rate has plunged from a peak of 10% in October 2009.
But in recent months, doubts have grown. The invigorating effects of the tax cuts enacted at the end of 2017 are expected to fade.
“And while the stock market has rallied since a rout at the end of last year, other important financial indicators such as government bond yields, suggest that investors expect growth to moderate.
For years, even as the economy added jobs and unemployment kept falling, wage increases were lackluster. But employees now appear to be getting solid raises. The 3.4% year-over-year increase in February was more than double the annual inflation rate for the month.
“This means households and workers have pretty strong purchasing power and they spend more at the mall,” Beth Ann Bovino, United States chief economist at S&P Global Ratings said.
With the jobless rate at a historic low, employers have to offer higher wages and more attractive benefits to lure workers. Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, a job-search company, said that factor was reflected in the posting on her company’s site. In March, 34% of the openings advertised on ZipRecruiter had benefits, up from 19% a year earlier.
Steady wage growth may be the catalyst that helps keep the economic expansion going: Higher wages encourage more spending, and companies that meet that extra demand have to hire more people. That’s a brief description of what makes the economic spiral go round and round.