U.S. payroll gains continue as jobless rate edges down

U.S. payrolls continued to grow in March as the unemployment rate edged down to its lowest level in two years.

According to the latest Department of Labor estimates, nonfarm payrolls increased 216,000 and the monthly unemployment rate slipped a tenth of a percent to 8.8 percent. That’s the lowest jobless rate since March 2009.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the estimates reflect “sustained and widespread job growth.”

“Private employment has now grown for 13 consecutive months, with February and March showing the strongest growth since early 2006. And since its low point in February 2010, private sector employment has risen by 1.8 million,” Solis said.

Estimated job gains for February and January were revised upward 7,000 to a total of 262,000. Since February 2010, total payroll employment has grown 1.5 million.

For March, business and professional services added a net 78,000 jobs, while employment rose 37,000 in both the health care and leisure and hospitality sectors. Manufacturing employment continued to trend up with 17,000 net new jobs. The mining sector added a net 14,000 positions.

The government sector shed a net 16,000 jobs, bringing the total jobs lost in the sector since September 2008 to 416,000.

The average workweek for employees on nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.3 hours in March. The average manufacturing workweek edged down a tenth of an hour to 40.5 hours.

The average hourly earnings of employees on private nonfarm payrolls remained unchanged at $22.87. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 1.7 percent.