Reporting from Washington — The American economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the biggest burst of hiring in three years, the Labor Department said Friday.
The unemployment rate held steady at 9.7%, the level it has been at for the last three months.
The March job gains, which were boosted by temporary hiring for the census, marked the biggest one-month increase since 239,000 jobs were generated in March 2007. The latest gain was slightly lower than what many economists had been forecasting, but the government also revised upward the payroll count for the first two months of the year. It said the economy created 14,000 jobs in January, instead of losing 26,000 as previously reported. And the losses in February were shaved by more than half, to 14,000.
The news of the hiring spurt last month will be welcomed by the 15 million jobless American workers -- it was only the third time the economy added jobs in the last 27 months. But the latest report somewhat overstated the strength of a slowly recovering labor market. About 30% of the payroll increases last month, or 48,000 jobs, were positions created by the Census Bureau, which is expecting to hire hundreds of thousands more workers in the next couple of months to knock on doors and collect data for the decennial count of the nation's population. Many of these jobs are part-time and will last only several weeks.