The U.S. economy created 162,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said on April 2, the largest rise in three years but not enough to budge the unemployment rate from 9.7%.
With close to one in 10 American workers out of work, the monthly job count -- always an eagerly awaited indicator -- was seen as a key sign of the heath of the economic recovery.
Job creation rose dramatically from February, when the economy lost 14,000 jobs, according to revised figures.
"In March, the number of unemployed persons was little changed at 15 million, and the unemployment rate remained at 9.7%," the Labor Department said.
The figures were slightly below market expectations. The consensus forecast had been for the jobless rate to remain at 9.7% and for 184,000 jobs to be created.
But investors, who are groping around for guidance amid the worst market upheaval in a generation, will not get a chance to react to the figures until April 5, when stock markets reopen after a Good Friday break.
The Labor Department confirmed that in March job creation had been boosted by the Census Bureau hiring scores of workers to conduct its 2010 survey. "Employment in federal government was up over the month, reflecting the hiring of 48,000 temporary workers for the decennial census."
Experts also suspected that previous months' figures had been skewed by winter weather that forced some firms to shut up shop and delay hiring. They expected that pent up activity to be unleashed in March.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010