Employers ramped up hiring in April, adding 274,000 jobs, enough to hold the nation's jobless rate steady at 5.2 percent. The latest figures offered a hopeful sign that the labor market is gaining traction and that any economic rough patch will be temporary.
The Labor Department report, released Friday, also showed that job gains for both February and March turned out to be bigger than previously estimated. That also suggested that the overall health of the job market is improving.
The 274,000 net number of jobs added in April was the most since February and exceeded economists' forecasts. Before the report was released analysts were calling for a gain of around 175,000. They were also predicting the unemployment rate would be unchanged from March's reading of 5.2 percent.
Payroll gains were widespread, with retailers, health care providers, construction companies and financial services all showing employment rising. Manufacturing, however, lost jobs for the second straight month.
Job gains for March were revised to 146,000 from an initial estimate of just 110,000. And, payrolls for February were moved up to show an increase of 300,000, better than the 243,000 previously reported.
The Federal Reserve, worried more about inflation than economic growth, boosted short-term interest rates on Tuesday by one-quarter percentage point to 3 percent. It was the eighth increase of that size since the Fed began to tighten credit last June. The Fed was expected to keep pushing rates higher through much of this year.
Workers' average hourly earnings rose in April to $16, up 0.3 percent from March's $15.95. That was slightly higher than the 0.2 percent increase that economists were forecasting.
Addressing the labor market, Fed policy-makers said Tuesday that conditions "apparently continue to improve gradually."
The economy in the first quarter of 2005 grew at a 3.1 percent annual rate, its slowest pace in two years as high energy prices crimped consumer and business spending.
Oil prices, which had climbed into record-high territory on March 18 at $56.72 a barrel, set a new all-time high of $57.27 a barrel at the beginning of April.
Analysts believe that the rough patch the economy has encountered was temporary and not a sign of a slide toward recession.
President Bush wants to see the economy and the labor market on firm footing especially as he tries to sell the public and politicians a centerpiece of his second-term economic agenda: a revamp of the Social Security retirement program.
There were 7.7 million people unemployed in April, with the average duration of 19.6 weeks without work, the highest in a year.
However, the share of the working-age population working or actively seeking a job rose in April to 66 percent, up from 65.8 percent in March, which was a nearly 17 year low.