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Economy Added Jobs In March

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The biggest growth in jobs in three years. That's the word from the Labor Department today. The economy added 162,000 jobs last month, a very good number. But there are also plenty of bad numbers in the report. More than half the jobs added are temporary. And the unemployment rate, 9.7 percent, didn't budge.

NPR's Frank Langfitt has the story.

FRANK LANGFITT: The first Friday of each month is usually a downer for economists and the unemployed alike. It's the day the Labor Department delivers its job estimates for the month before. And for the past two years, the news has been mostly bad. Today was different.

Mr. SCOTT BROWN (Chief Economist, Raymond James): Well, I think it's a pretty good report.

Mr. JOHN SILVIA (Chief Economist, Wells Fargo): Very positive. I think that it's a good sign that the recovery does have legs.

Ms. HEIDI SHIERHOLZ (Economic Policy Institute): This is the best news we've seen of the recession.

LANGFITT: That's Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James, the financial services firm. John Silvia, chief economist with Wells Fargo. And Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute.

Silvia says one of the best things about today's report, employment increases didn't come from just one place.

Mr. SILVIA: I was very happy in terms of the total job gains. I was very happy in terms of the distribution of job gains. Manufacturing is out of jobs for the last three months in a row. And some of the discretionary areas, such as retail trade and leisure and hospitality were adding jobs as well. So, yes, labor market clearly has turned. The economy is clearly improving.

LANGFITT: That said, the jobs gains weren't quite as good as they appeared. 48,000 of them were temporary hires by the government for the census. And others were hires that would have occurred in February if not for the blizzards in the Northeast. And Silvia pointed out something very worrisome in today's report.

Mr. SILVIA: That dark side, of course, is if you're unemployed, you're unemployed for a long time.

Ms. SHIERHOLZ: We've never seen anything like this.

LANGFITT: That's Heidi Shierholz again. She's talking about this figure: 6.5 million people have been out of work for more than six months. The country hasn't seen numbers like that since the end of World War II. Shierholz says this is one of the recession's most painful legacies.

Ms. SHIERHOLZ: Long-term unemployment is absolutely devastating to families. It uses up savings entirely and it can also decrease the marketability of workers.

LANGFITT: In other words, the longer you're out of work, the more likely you are to end up with a worse job later with lower pay. So, if jobs are growing again, why are so many people still unemployed? And there's a basic, brutal math. The recession destroyed more than 8 million jobs, companies are beginning to hire. But Shierholz says the increase is...

Ms. SHIERHOLZ: Nowhere near the level of growth we need to start bringing down unemployment.

LANGFITT: Which is one reason the unemployment rate is still stuck at 9.7 percent. Last month, the labor force, including those looking for jobs, grew by nearly 400,000. But there weren't anywhere near enough new jobs to absorb those people.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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