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The U.S. economy rolls on, adds 303,000 jobs in March

The U.S. economy added 303,000 jobs in March, blowing past expectations and indicating that economic growth remains on a firm footing.

The reading matches the largest one-month boost in payrolls since May 2023 and is a significant increase from the 270,000 added in February and the 256,000 in January.

Economists had forecast that about 200,000 jobs would be added for March.

The unemployment rate declined slightly to 3.8%, and wage growth came in at 4.1% over the last 12 months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

Sectors seeing the largest job gains included hospitals, restaurants, local governments, large warehouse retailers, and specialty trade contractors. Manufacturing added zero jobs on net. 

“The economy continues to display remarkable resilience, defying high interest rates and fears of a substantial slowdown,” Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst, said in an emailed note.

He added that more people were both working and looking for work, something that brought the labor force participation rate up to 62.7% — another sign of a strong economy.

The strong data point may prompt the Federal Reserve to continue to push back the interest rate cuts it had been signaling for this year. That means the cost of borrowing money for everything from credit cards to autos to homes is likely to remain elevated for some time. By keeping interest rates high, the central bank seeks to cool consumption for goods and services — too much of which keeps price growth elevated. 

Following the release of Friday’s report, traders shifted the odds of the first rate cut of 2024 from June to September.

Yet with the pace of hourly pay slowing in March to the slowest annual rate of the post-pandemic period, some economists are optimistic that the ongoing jobs boom may not turn into higher inflation. 

A series of new reports suggest the surge in immigrant workers in recent years, while a politically volatile topic, has helped keep a lid on the pace of pay increases that may be helping fuel inflation.

“Labor supply increased significantly [in 2023], thanks to rising participation among 25-to-54-year-olds, as well as a strong pace of immigration,” Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell said in a speech earlier this week. 

Nevertheless, Powell said the central bank was in no rush to start bringing interest rates down.

“We do not expect that it will be appropriate to lower our policy rate until we have greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably down toward 2 percent,” Powell said. “Given the strength of the economy and progress on inflation so far, we have time to let the incoming data guide our decisions on policy.”

In a note to clients following the release of Friday’s jobs report, Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management, said that while the strong payrolls number could mean a delayed interest-rate cut, next week’s inflation report will be more critical in determining what the Fed does next.     

“Today’s report should reassure markets that, if the Fed does not cut in June, it’s because the economy is still strong and earnings should remain in an upswing,’ she wrote.

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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