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U.S. Economy Added 215,000 Jobs In March; Unemployment Rate Rose To 5 Percent

Job seekers fill out applications inside the employment center at the Six Flags Entertainment Corp. Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, N.J., in March.

The U.S. economy gained 215,000 jobs in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says in its monthly report released Friday. The unemployment rate rose slightly to 5 percent, up from 4.9 percent in the month before.

"The increase in the unemployment rate came because we had more people looking for work," economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial Services tells our Newscast unit.

And that's clear from the labor force participation rate, which shows that "more people who've been out of work got optimistic enough to start looking for a job again," NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

The Associated Press notes that it's "the fifth time in the past six months that the proportion of Americans working or looking for work has increased, an encouraging trend after that figure fell to four-decade lows last year."

The retail trade, construction and health care sectors added jobs, while the numbers dropped in manufacturing and mining.

"We continue to see job growth of more than 200,000 per month. That's far more than we need to keep up with normal growth in the labor force, so we're reducing job market slack," Faucher says.

Average hourly earnings for private sector workers increased by 7 cents, to $25.43, after dropping 2 cents in February, the BLS report says.

The gains in the number of payroll jobs slightly exceeded analysts' expectations. In a survey conducted by Bloomberg, economists forecast that companies added 205,000 jobs to their payrolls last month. They had expected the unemployment rate to remain unchanged.

The White House said in a blog post after the report's release that "the private sector has now added 14.4 million jobs over 73 straight months of job growth, the longest streak on record, and wage growth has accelerated over the past year." It adds: "More work remains to drive even faster wage growth."

The Bureau of Labor Statics revised January's jobs gains downward, to 168,000 from 172,000. February's figures were revised upward, to 245,000 from 242,000. In total, "employment gains in January and February combined were 1,000 less than previously reported," the report states.

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