Payroll gains slow as U.S. jobless rate falls to 7.6%

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Employers boosted hours to meet demand. The average work week for all employees increased by six minutes to 34.6 hours, the highest since February 2012. At the same time, average hourly earnings for all workers were stagnant in March.

Payroll projections ranged from gains of 100,000 to 366,000 following an initially reported 236,000 increase in February, according to the Bloomberg survey. Revisions to the prior two months’ reports added a total of 61,000 jobs to the employment count in January and February.

Private payrolls, which don’t include jobs at government agencies, climbed by 95,000 in March after a revised gain of 254,000 the previous month. Economists forecast they would grow 200,000 following an initially reported 246,000 gain in January.

Factory employment dropped by 3,000 workers in March, compared with a projected 10,000 advance and following a 19,000 increase in the previous month.

Construction Jobs

Employment at private service-providers rose 79,000 last month, today’s report showed. Construction companies added 18,000 workers after a 49,000 surge in February that was the biggest in almost six years.

Government payrolls decreased by 7,000 last month after a 14,000 increase. Federal and local government employment declined.

The job market kept making limited progress just as $85 billion in automatic across-the-board government budget cuts, known as sequestration, started March 1, threatening to slow the U.S. economy. The reductions in planned spending, which began because Congress couldn’t compromise on a debt-reduction strategy, trim 5% from domestic agencies and 8% for the Defense Department this fiscal year.

Even so, consumer and corporate demand has given companies reason to keep expanding. Americans have coped with a 2 percentage-point increase in payroll taxes and a jump in gasoline prices earlier this year. In February, household purchases climbed the most in five months.

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