Economy creates 162,000 new jobs; unemployment rate stuck

The Department of Labor this morning released its employment numbers for March, indicating that the economy created 162,000 new jobs. Yet the nation’s unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.7 percent.

Some analysts see the figures as the first clear sign that the economy is on the rebound. “Unlike previous months in which payroll gains were limited to the health and education sectors and to temporary help agencies, the latest report suggests that job gains are now more broadly distributed across the private economy,” Gary Burtless, formerly with the Labor Department and now at the Brookings Institution, said in a statement. “In March there were small gains in manufacturing, construction, and many service-producing industries.”

Democrats are being cautious not to hype the figures.

Certainly the creation of 162,000 jobs is an improvement on the 700,000-per-month job losses that were the trend a year ago. But there are signs in today’s report that a long road remains for the millions of Americans struggling to find work. Indeed, the number of long-term unemployed — those out of work for more than 27 weeks — jumped by 414,000 in March, to 6.5 million. That means that more than 44 percent of all jobless Americans have been out of work for more than half a year — a statistic that’s alarming to advocates for the unemployed.

“The long slog of looking for work and surviving on jobless benefits is going to continue for millions of Americans,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement today. ”It’s Congress’ job now to take effective and aggressive steps to create jobs and extend unemployment through the end of the year, so that the economy can get back on its feet.”

The deadline to file for the next tier of unemployment benefits arrives next Monday, during a week when Congress is on recess. NELP estimates that the deadline will cause as many as 212,000 unemployed workers will lose their benefits in that week alone.

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Mike Lillis

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