WASHINGTON (AP) — The unemployment rate fell to a two-year low of 8.8 percent in March, capping the strongest two months of hiring since before the recession began.
The economy added 216,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. Factories, retailers, the education and health care sectors and professional and financial services all expanded payrolls. Those job gains offset layoffs by local governments.
Another month of brisk hiring provided the latest sign that the economy is strengthening nearly two years after the recession ended. Still, a surprisingly large number of people who stopped looking for work during the downturn have yet to start looking again.
Private employers, the backbone of the economy, are driving the gains. They added more than 200,000 jobs for a second straight month. It was the first time that’s happened since 2006 — more than a year before the recession started.
“The U.S. labor market is finally making some serious progress,” said Sal Guatieri, economist at BMO Capital Markets Economics.
The unemployment rate dipped from 8.9 percent in February. The rate has fallen a full percentage point over the past four months. That’s the sharpest drop since 1983.
Economists predict employers will add jobs at roughly the same pace for the rest of this year. That would generate about 2.5 million new positions. Still, that would make up for only a small portion of the 7.5 million jobs wiped out during the recession.
NEW YORK (AP) — A drop in the unemployment rate to a two-year low sent the Dow Jones industrial average to a new 2011 high Friday.
The Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, the lowest since March 2009, as companies added workers at the fastest two-month pace since before the recession began. Approximately 216,000 new jobs were added to the economy last month, offsetting layoffs by local governments. Economists had expected the unemployment rate to remain at 8.9 percent.
“We are clearly seeing a breakout in the labor market,” said Paul Zemsky, the head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. “The jobless recovery is ending and we are moving into a job expansion stage of the economy.”