WASHINGTON (CN) – March saw the nation’s first solid job growth since the recession started, according to a report released Friday by the Department of Labor. President Obama said the “worst of the storm is over,” and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis called the numbers an “encouraging sign.”
The nation added 162,000 jobs in March, the largest one-month jump in job numbers in three years. But the unemployment rate still remained unchanged at 9.7 percent, the Labor Department reported.
The job growth last month was due in part to 48,000 temporary hires by the Census Bureau for the 2010 Census, jobs that will remain in place for the next few months. But the private sector added 123,000 jobs, surprising many analysts. Some private-sector jobs were due to work that began after severe snowstorms in early 2010 ended.
Still, the U.S. economy has added 54,000 jobs a month in the first quarter of this year, as opposed to an average loss of 752,700 jobs a month in first quarter last year and 89,700 in the final few months of the year.
Solis credited the Recovery Act for the bounce back, citing numbers from the Congressional Budget Office that the Act created between 1 million and 2.1 million jobs through the end of 2009 and bumped up gross domestic product by 1.5 percentage points to 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter.
“Today is an encouraging day,” said President Obama, addressing a crowd in Charlotte, N.C. “We learned that the economy actually produced a substantial number of jobs instead of losing a substantial number of jobs. We are beginning to turn the corner.”
He added: “We have to be mindful that today’s job numbers, while welcome, leave us with a lot more work to do,” adding that “there are some limits to what government can do. … The true engine of job growth in this country has always been the private sector.”
Secretary Solis also emphasized the need for additional job growth. “Fifteen million Americans are still unemployed, and 6.5 million have been looking for work for more than six months,” she said. To help out the situation, Solis encouraged Congress to extend the provision of COBRA health coverage and unemployment benefits.
Jobs in temporary help services, health care and education have experienced continued growth, Solis said, while growth in the manufacturing sector has been “modest.” The temporary help services market grew by 40,000 jobs. The financial services and the information industry lost jobs. Economists predict that the labor market will be the slowest to recover.
“Job creation remains the administration’s primary focus, and we are tackling the problem from all angles. The recently passed Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment, or HIRE, Act gives tax breaks to businesses that hire new workers and make critical investments that will help those businesses grow,” Solis said.
She said the country needs “further investments in small businesses, infrastructure and clean energy.”
But the “worst of the storm is over,” according to Obama, and “brighter days are still ahead.”