Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 216,000 in March, and the unemployment rate dipped a tenth of a percent to 8.8 percent, the lowest level in two years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

Job gains occurred in professional and business services, health care, leisure and hospitality, and mining. Employment in manufacturing continued to trend up.

In March, employment in the service-providing sector continued to expand, led by a gain of 78,000 in professional and business services. Most of the gain occurred in temporary help services (+29,000) and in professional and technical services (+35,000). Accounting jobs increased by 20,000 and finance jobs by 6,000 (see Hiring Rose in Accounting and Finance in March).

Some of the gains in the private sector were offset by a loss of about 15,000 jobs in local government. “Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 230,000 in March, marking 13 consecutive months of private employment growth,” said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “Private sector employers added 1.8 million jobs over that period, including more than half a million jobs in the last three months. The unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month to 8.8 percent. The full percentage point drop in the unemployment rate over the past four months is the largest such decline since 1984, and, importantly, it has been driven primarily by increased employment, rather than people leaving the labor force.”

The number of unemployed persons (13.5 million) and the unemployment rate (8.8 percent) changed little in March, according to the Labor Department. The labor force also was little changed over the month. Since November 2010, the jobless rate has declined by 1.0 percentage point.

The number of job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, at 8.2 million, was little changed in March but has fallen by 1.3 million since November 2010. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 6.1 million in March; their share of the unemployed increased from 43.9 to 45.5 percent over the month.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.3 hours in March. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls were unchanged at $22.87. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 1.7 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees edged down by 2 cents over the month to $19.30.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised from +63,000 to +68,000, and the change for February was revised from +192,000 to +194,000.

“Make no mistake about it—though today’s unemployment numbers are encouraging, by no means does this mean we’re out of the woods,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. “While we have taken a good first step in restoring confidence to job creators, we must continue to remove the impediments to sustained economic growth.  Washington must do more to rein in spending, reduce the deficit and overhaul a Tax Code that is too complex and too burdensome.”

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