The U.S. added a whopping 916,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent in March as the recovery from the coronavirus recession chugged ahead, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The March jobs report showed the U.S. economy picking up speed as COVID-19 vaccinations accelerated, restrictions eased and President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion relief plan meant to give struggling households and businesses a bridge to the other side of the pandemic.
Economists had projected the U.S. to gain 675,000 jobs in March as consumer and business confidence rose, manufacturing activity sped up and workforce management companies reported steady rises in hiring and hours worked.
The Labor Department also revised February’s surprisingly strong gain from an initially reported 379,000 jobs up to 468,000 and January’s gain of 166,000 jobs up to 233,000, a combined total of 156,000 more jobs.
The U.S. is still 8.4 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels, and millions more have left the workforce without a clear path to return. Labor force participation was also largely unchanged at 61.5 percent in March, 1.8 percentage points lower than it was in February 2020.
Even so, the March jobs report marked an encouraging step forward for an economy expected to speed up into the spring and summer.
The hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector led March’s haul with a gain of 280,000, 176,000 in food and beverage service places. Arts, entertainment and recreation added 64,000 jobs, and accommodation added 40,000.
Education added 190,000 jobs in March as in-person schooling resumed across much of the U.S., and the construction sector added 110,000 jobs. Professional and business services added 66,000 jobs, manufacturing employment rose by 53,000 and retailers added 23,000 workers.
“Job growth accelerated sharply in March, with gains across a number of sectors, including both goods-producing and service-providing industries. We fully expect that this pace of job gains will continue for months, and anticipate that the unemployment rate, now at 6 percent, will be well below 5 percent by the end of the year,” wrote Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, in a Friday analysis.
The two surveys used to calculate the March employment report were conducted the week Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. While the March jobs report does not capture the direct fiscal impact of Biden’s relief measure, it may capture some of the decisions made based on the bill’s likely passage.
Many economists say the direct household payments, extended unemployment benefits, rental aid and state and local government support included in Biden’s relief bill will help accelerate the recovery and limit the recession’s long-term damage.
The March report also comes two days after Biden rolled out his $2.5 trillion infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, as the next piece of his broader economic agenda.
Biden’s proposal would spend trillions to repair bridges, roads, and waterways, expand Internet access, make the U.S. more resilient to climate change, build more affordable housing, and boost electric vehicle productions. The plan is not only intended to boost the country’s long-run economic productivity but ensure that the recovery from the COVID-19 recession leaves no one behind.
Black and Hispanic Americans have taken a disproportionate toll from both the pandemic and the economic crisis and remain well behind their white counterparts on the road to recovery. The Black unemployment rate was 9.6 percent and the Hispanic unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in March, while the white unemployment rate was just 5.4 percent.
Another 3.7 million Americans also said they were unable in March due to the pandemic, and there were roughly 6.9 million people who wanted a job but were not currently looking for one, meaning they are not counted among the unemployed.
“The extent to which the rebound is more inclusive will depend on how eventual legislation prioritizes investments in sectors with a high concentration of Black and Hispanic workers and recognizes care, skills training, and broadband as necessary provisions to unlock opportunities and ensure a more equitable recovery,” said Nicole Goldin, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Updated at 9:28 a.m.