The economy had its biggest jump in jobs in three years in March, according to a government report released Friday.
The Labor Department said the economy gained 162,000 jobs in the month, compared to a revised reading of a 14,000 job loss in February. That makes March only the third month since the start of 2008 that employers did not cut payrolls.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast a gain of 184,000 jobs. But the March number was generally not seen as a disappointment even though it fell slightly short of the consensus forecast, because revisions in January and February readings added a combined 62,000 additional jobs.
While the news was positive, there were a number of short-term factors that inflated the reading, including an addition of 48,000 by the Census Bureau as it geared up for the once-in-a-decade headcount of the U.S. population. Some economists had feared that even more of March's gain would be due solely to Census hiring, so the modest gain was viewed favorably.
March's job gain was also bolstered by weather factors - February's numbers had been depressed by temporary job losses related to severe winter storms last month.
Still, the addition was good news for an economy that has suffered a net loss of 8.2 million jobs since the start of 2008, a month after the official start of the recession.
And the gains were spread across various sectors of the economy - 60% of industries added jobs - the most widespread gains seen across the economy in four years.
That rising tide of hiring brought relief to some long-suffering sectors of the economy. Construction added 15,000 jobs, the first increase of any kind in the sector since June 2007. Manufacturing also added 17,000, with 2,500 of that gain coming at auto plants and their parts suppliers.
Retailers added nearly 15,000 jobs and leisure and hospitality accounted for 22,000 more jobs.
January's reading was revised from a loss to a gain of 14,000 jobs, and February's job loss was also narrowed in the revision. The only other month with even a modest job gain was November 2009, when there was a net gain of 64,000 jobs.
The unemployment rate held steady 9.7% in February, matching economist expectations.