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Economy Creates 162,000 New Jobs; Unemployment Rate Remains the Same

The Department of Labor this morning released its much-anticipated employment numbers for March, indicating that the economy created 162,000 new jobs last month, but the nation’s unemployment rate remained 9.7 percent.

Some economists see the figures as the first clear sign that the economy is on the rebound. “Unlike previous months in which payroll gains were limited to the health and education sectors and to temporary help agencies, the latest report suggests that job gains are now more broadly distributed across the private economy,” Gary Burtless, formerly with the Labor Department and now at the Brookings Institution, said in a statement today. “In March there were small gains in manufacturing, construction, and many service-producing industries.”

Democrats, though, are being cautious not to overhype the figures. Certainly the creation of 162,000 jobs is an improvement on the 700,000-per-month job losses that were the trend a year ago. But there are signs in today’s report that a long road remains for the millions of Americans struggling to find work. Indeed, the number of long-term unemployed — those out of work for more than 27 weeks — jumped by 414,000 in March, to 6.5 million. That means that more than 44 percent of all jobless Americans have been out of work for more than half a year — a statistic that’s alarming to advocates for the unemployed.

“The long slog of looking for work and surviving on jobless benefits is going to continue for millions of Americans,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement today. ”It’s Congress’ job now to take effective and aggressive steps to create jobs and extend unemployment through the end of the year, so that the economy can get back on its feet.”

The deadline to file for the next tier of unemployment benefits arrives next Monday, during a week when Congress is on recess. NELP estimates that the deadline will cause as many as 212,000 unemployed workers will lose their benefits in that week alone.

Update: Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal policy shop, point out that roughly 48,000 of these jobs are temporary positions created by the federal government to manage this year’s Census survey.

“Excluding Census hiring, state and local government shed 9,000 jobs, while the private sector added 123,000 jobs,” wrote EPI economist Heidi Shierholz. “Some of these gains were likely an upward correction to the winter-storm-dampened February payrolls, but the trend since January is positive, with the private sector adding an average of 65,500 jobs per month over the last two months.”

Those private sector figures are much more optimistic than those issued just a few days ago by other surveyers, who reported that the private employers shed 23,000 jobs last month.

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