U.S. payrolls grow, but at a slower pace

U.S. payrolls continued to increase in March – but at half the pace of the previous three months – even as the unemployment rate edged down.

According to the latest Labor Department estimates, nonfarm payrolls rose 120,000. The jobless rate slipped a tenth of a point to 8.2 percent, the lowest rate since January 2009, but reflected a decrease in the number of people looking for jobs.

The March estimate breaks a three-month steak in which payroll gains topped 200,000 and averaged 246,000 a month.

Initial estimates for job gains were revised downward 9,000 to 275,000 for January, but revised upward 13,000 to 240,000 for February.

The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 100,000 to 12.7 million. The number of people who’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or longer dropped 100,000 to 5.3 million.

For March, private-sector payrolls increased 121,000 with gains in a number of industry sectors. Manufacturing payrolls rose 37,000, while food services and drinking places also added a net 37,000 jobs.

Business and professional services added 31,000 jobs, while health care payrolls rose 26,000 and employment in financial activities increased 15,000.

At the same time, though, retail trade employment fell 34,000 with job losses at general merchandise stores.

Employment in other sectors, including construction and mining, was little changed.

The average hourly workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls slipped a tenth of an hour to 34.5 hours. The average hourly workweek for manufacturers fell three-tenths of an hour to 40.7 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 5 cents to $23.29. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have advanced 2.1 percent.