The pace of hiring in the United States slowed in March with the smallest gain in payrolls in nine months.
The jobless rate edged down, but only because more people stopped looking for work and were no longer counted among the unemployed.
According to the latest Department of Labor estimates, nonfarm payrolls grew just 88,000 in March, about half the average monthly gain of 169,000 over the prior year.
Initial estimates of job gains for February and January were revised upward, though, a total of 61,000 to 416,000.
The monthly unemployment rate slipped a tenth of a point in March to 7.6 percent, the lowest level since December 2008. However, the decline was attributed to a decrease of 290,000 in the number of people counted among the unemployed because they stopped hunting for jobs.
The number of people counted among those out of work for 27 weeks or more was little changed in March at 4.6 million. Another 7.6 million were counted among those working part-time either because their hours were reduced or they couldn’t find full-time jobs.
Job gains were spread out over several industry sectors. Professional and business services added 51,000 net new jobs, while health care payrolls increased 23,000. Construction employment continued to trend upward with an additional 18,000 jobs. Within the leisure and hospitality sector, employment at food services and drinking places rose 13,000.
At the same time, though, employment in retail trades fell 24,000. The U.S. Postal Service cut payrolls by 12,000.
The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 34.6 hours in march. The manufacturing workweek similarly increased a tenth of an hour to 40.8. hours.
Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a cent to $23.82. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 42 cents, or 1.8 percent.