U.S. employers added the most jobs in seven months in March as the labor market’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic picked up momentum amid government relief checks and the accelerating vaccine rollout.
The Labor Department reported that nonfarm payrolls increased by 916,000 last month, blowing past economists’ projections of a 675,000 gain. The unemployment rate fell to 6%, matching forecasts.
More jobs were added in March than in any month since the 1.58 million increase in August 2020, with industries such as leisure and hospitality that had been hit hard by the pandemic benefiting in particular from stronger economic growth and the vaccination effort.
“With the vaccination program likely to reach critical mass within the next couple of months and the next round of fiscal stimulus providing a big boost, there is finally real light at the end of the tunnel,” Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a client note.
According to The Wall Street Journal, some economists project job growth will top one million in April and employers will add an average of 514,000 jobs each month over the next year, for a total of more than six million.
“That would mark the best 12-month stretch of job creation in decades but leave overall employment totals below where they stood before the pandemic,” the Journal noted.
Hiring rose in every major part of the economy in March except information services, which includes media and public relations. Companies in leisure and hospitality added 280,000 jobs to bring total employment gains in the past two months to 664,000.
“More Americans are going out to eat and the numbers are expected to grow as most of the country gets vaccinated and spring arrives,” MarketWatch said.
In the construction industry, soaring home sales and a revival in commercial construction are fueling the biggest boom in more than a decade. The sector saw a healthy gain of 110,000 new jobs in March.
The jobs report “shows that the economy is healing, that those who lost their jobs are coming back into the workforce as the recovery continues and restrictions are lifted,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.