Construction workers wait in line for temperature screening before returning to the job site after lunch, in New York City on 10 Nov 2020 (Source: Reuters)

The US economy regained a massive 916,000 jobs in March, the biggest increase since August, with nearly a third of the increase in the hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The rise in hiring pushed the unemployment rate down to 6.0 per cent from 6.2 per cent in February.

However, even as the economy begins to recover from the COVID-19 shutdowns, employment is still 8.4 million jobs lower than the pre-pandemic peak, the report said.

The gain in nonfarm payrolls, which far exceeded the consensus estimate among economists, reflects the accelerating recovery as vaccinations become more widespread.

And with upward revisions to hiring in the first two months of 2021, employment in January and February combined was 156,000 higher than previously reported, the report said.

Hiring was widespread in manufacturing, construction and education, but leisure and hospitality which bore the brunt of the shutdowns topped the list, regaining 280,000 — 176,000 of those in restaurants and bars.

Labor economist Diane Swonk of Grant Thornton almost exactly predicted the blockbuster report. She said before the release that the rebound was due to “ramping up vaccinations, lifting restrictions on indoor venues and reopening schools for in-person learning combined with spring break” and increased air travel.

But the data show there are still scars from the pandemic damage: Black unemployment remains little changed at 9.6 per cent, and average hourly earnings fell by 4 cents to $29.96, reflecting rehiring of lower wage workers who bring down the average.

In addition, there are nearly six million more workers now than before the pandemic who either are working part time because they cannot find a full time position, or are on the sidelines because they have not been able to find work, the report said.


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