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March unemployment rate dips to 8.8% as the economy added 216,000 jobs

April 1, 2011 |  5:52 am

Jobs-chamber

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom.

The U.S. economy created 216,000 jobs in March, the government reported Friday, continuing the recent rebound in hiring that has helped strengthen the recovery.

The unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a point to 8.8%, the lowest since March 2009. The unemployment rate has now dropped a full percentage point since November.

La-fi-US-Jobs
Click here for an interactive showing national unemployment numbers "Almost two years after the recession officially ended, the labor
market appears to finally be picking up," said Kathy Bostjancic, director for macroeconomic analysis at the Conference Board, a business and economic nonprofit.

\ The boost in jobs last month followed the addition of 194,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department reported. The economy now has added 1.5 million jobs since its recent low in February 2010.

Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York said the "powerful forward momentum" in the jobs market was important as the economy faces a headwind from rising gasoline prices.

Job growth in March exceeded economists' estimates of about 200,000. Growth in business and professional services led the way, with 78,000 new jobs. Healthcare, manufacturing, mining and the leisure and hospitality industries also saw significant growth.

Overall, the private sector added 230,000 jobs. But local governments continued to struggle, shedding 14,000 jobs in March. Still, that was a major improvement over the 46,000 government jobs lost in February.

Friday's unemployment report comes on the heels of some recent good news about the economy, although the unrest in the Middle East looms as a potential brake on the recovery.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week for the sixth time in seven weeks, dropping to 388,000. There were still 3.7 million people receiving unemployment compensation, but that was the lowest figure since October 2008, down from a peak of 6.6 million in mid-2009.

The Commerce Department last week said the economy grew at an annual rate of 3.1% in the fourth quarter of 2010, up from an earlier estimate of 2.8%.

The unemployment rate has been moving down steadily since November, when it was at 9.8%. The drop of one percentage point during the next four months was the biggest such decrease since 1983.

But turmoil in the Middle East has caused fuel prices to skyrocket, fueling fears that inflation will make economic conditions more difficult for average Americans and businesses. Prices increased in February for the third straight month, with energy costs the main driver. Overall, consumer prices increased 2.1% in the 12 months that ended in February, the most recent data available.

For the record, 2:35 pm April 1: A previous version of this post said that local governments shed 16,000 jobs in March. The correct figure is 14,000 jobs.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Banners spelling out the word "jobs" hang from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington. Credit: Icholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

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