U.S. Adds 162,000 Jobs; Unemployment Rate Remains 9.7%

BY jbreslow  April 2, 2010 at 8:56 AM EDT

Arizona Workforce Connection Career Expo

Khalifah Varnado reads employment information at a job expo in Arizona earlier this week. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images.)

The U.S. economy showed signs of life in March as employers added the most workers to their payrolls in three years, yet the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent.0410_jobsreport.jpg

Employers added 162,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department announced Friday, up from a loss of 14,000 in February.

Payrolls were expected to climb by 184,000, according to the estimates of 83 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

“I think this is the beginning of the beginning and not a groundswell,” said Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy and the director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. Even though the economy added jobs, he said, “we’re still in the hole a lot.”

A large chunk of the boost came from the U.S. Census Bureau, which hired 48,000 temporary workers to help with the once-a-decade population count. The bureau has said it would add as many as 1.15 million temporary workers in the first half of this year to help with the census.

“Those census workers couldn’t have come at a better time, because they will earn money and they will spend it and they will begin to generate confidence in the economy,” Fuller said. “It gets the process going.”

The gains in March could also represent a rebound from the East Coast blizzards in February that stalled hiring, as many businesses were forced to close due to record snowfall.

The Labor Department’s report also showed strong gains in manufacturing. The industry, considered a leading indicator of the economy’s performance, grew by 17,000 jobs in March and has expanded by 45,000 jobs over the past quarter.

While the positive jobs report will be welcome news inside the White House, it also offers a reminder of the forces that most economists expect will keep the jobless rate high for the foreseeable future.

The number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or more rose to a record 44.1 percent. And the underemployment rate — workers in part-time positions because they cannot find full-time work and people who have given up looking — ticked up to 16.9 percent from 16.8 percent.

“While this is the most positive jobs report we have had in three years, there will likely be bumps in the road ahead,” Christina Romer, chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers said in a statement. “… Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative. It is essential that we continue our efforts to move in the right direction and generate steady, strong job gains.”

We’ll have more on the the Labor Department’s report here on the Rundown later and on Friday’s broadcast. Stay tuned.