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US sees another robust month of job growth

WASHINGTON (AP) - America’s employers delivered another outpouring of jobs in March, adding a sizzling 303,000 workers to their payrolls and bolstering hopes that the economy can vanquish inflation without succumbing to a recession in the face of high interest rates.

Last month’s job growth was up from a revised 270,000 in February and was far above the 200,000 jobs that economists had forecast. By any measure, it amounted to a major burst of hiring, and it reflected the economy’s ability to withstand the pressure of high borrowing costs resulting from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes. With the nation’s consumers continuing to spend, many employers have kept hiring to meet steady customer demand.

Friday’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the unemployment rate dipped from 3.9% to 3.8%. The jobless rate has now remained below 4% for 26 straight months, the longest such streak since the 1960s. The government also revised up its estimate of job growth in January and February by a combined 22,000.

Normally, a blockbuster bounty of new jobs would raise concerns that a vibrant labor market would force companies to sharply raise pay to attract and keep workers, thereby fanning inflation pressures. But the March jobs report showed that wage growth was mild last month, which might allay any such fears. Average hourly wages were up 4.1% from a year earlier, the smallest year-over-year increase since mid-2021. From February to March, though, hourly pay did rise 0.3% after increasing 0.2% the month before.

The economy is sure to weigh on Americans’ minds as the November presidential vote nears and they assess President Joe Biden’s re-election bid. Many people still feel squeezed by the inflation surge that erupted in the spring of 2021. Eleven rate hikes by the Fed have helped send inflation tumbling from its peak. But average prices are still about 18% higher than they were in February 2021 - a fact for which Biden might pay a political price.

In a statement Friday, though, Biden argued that the economy’s strong performance means that his policies are paying off.

“My plan is growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, investing in all Americans and giving the middle class a fair shot,” he said. “Inflation has come down significantly. We’ve come a long way, but I won’t stop fighting for hard-working families.”

The 303,000 jobs that the economy added in March were the largest gain since last May. And they boosted average monthly job growth so far this year to a vigorous 276,000, an improvement even on 2023’s robust average of 251,000.

FILE - Waitress Rachel Gurcik serves customers at the Gateway Diner in Westville, Pa. on Oct. 22, 2023. On Friday, April 5, 2024, the U.S. government issues its March jobs report. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, File)
FILE - Construction workers work in Mount Prospect, Ill., Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. On Friday, April 5, 2024, the U.S. government issues its March jobs report. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
FILE - Veterinarian surgeon Dr. Daniel Spector, center, with members of the surgical team Lauren Reeves, right, and Allison Elkowitz examine Tiny, a pug, in the surgery prep room at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center, Friday, March 8, 2024, in New York. On Friday, April 5, 2024, the U.S. government issues its March jobs report. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)