WASHINGTON – Employers in the U.S. boosted payrolls in March and the unemployment rate held at 6.7 percent even as more Americans entered the labor force, showing steady progress that will probably prompt Federal Reserve policy makers to continue reducing stimulus while keeping interest rates low.
Payrolls rose 192,000 after a 197,000 gain in February that was larger than first estimated, the Labor Department reported Friday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists projected a 200,000 gain. Private employment, which excludes government jobs, surpassed the pre-recession peak for the first time.
Employment in January and February was revised higher, showing the effect on the labor market from inclement winter weather was less severe than previously thought. The gain puts payroll growth in step with the average over the past two years and shows companies are optimistic about the outlook for demand.
“This is a very good report,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Inc. in Lexington, Mass., and the top payrolls forecaster in the last two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It looks like we’re back on track.”
Revisions to prior reports added a total of 37,000 jobs to payrolls in the previous two months. The report also showed an increase in hours worked and little change in hourly earnings from February.
Forecasts for March payrolls ranged from increases of 150,000 to 275,000 after a previously reported 175,000 gain a month earlier, according to the Bloomberg survey of 90 economists. Last year, the U.S. added 194,000 jobs each month on average after 186,000 in 2012.
Stocks pared gains, after benchmark indexes rose to all-time highs after the report. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index advanced 0.1 percent to 1,890.19 at 9:55 a.m. in New York, trimming an earlier advance of 0.5 percent.