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The labor market’s recovery from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic gained further momentum in March as states continued to ease restrictions and more people received vaccines, boosting hiring in the leisure and hospitality industry.
Employers added 916,000 jobs in March and the gains from February were revised higher to 468,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected the addition of 647,000 jobs.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, ticked down to 6%, its lowest level since the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to at least temporarily close their doors in March of last year. The unemployment rate peaked at a record high of 14.7% in April 2020.
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Despite the gains, the U.S. economy has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic.
"Springtime is here for the economic recovery, as today's jobs report showed the economy growing at its fastest pace since September," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, a job review website. "After a winter freeze from the third wave of the pandemic and severe weather, the economy is thawing out."
The leisure and hospitality sector added 280,000 jobs last month with food services and drinking places accounting for 176,000 jobs, or about two-thirds of the gains. Arts, entertainment and recreation (+64,000) and accommodation (+40,000) also saw sizable job growth. Employment in the sector is down 3.1 million from February 2020 levels.
Elsewhere, public and private education added a total of 190,000 jobs as schools resumed in-person learning and other school-related activities, and construction saw an increase of 110,000 jobs.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asian workers ticked up 6% while falling to 7.9% for Hispanic workers. The unemployment rates for White workers and Black workers were little changed at 5.4% and 9.6%, respectively.
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The labor force participation rate held steady at 61.5%, down 1.8 percentage points from its February 2020 level.
Average hourly earnings for all employees on private payrolls fell by 4 cents to $29.96 while the average hourly workweek increased by 0.3 hours to 34.9 hours.
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