Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

U.S. job growth continued at a rapid pace in April, as 288,000 new jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent, the Labor Department estimated Friday.

The report was much stronger than expected. Economists surveyed by CBS MarketWatch expected 172,000 new jobs and a jobless rate of 5.7 percent.

March's payroll gains were revised higher from 308,000 to 337,000. Job growth, up eight months in a row, has averaged 217,000 a month so far in 2004. Since August, payrolls are up 1.1 million.

The report could bolster President Bush's campaign, diverting attention from Iraq toward the improving domestic economy.

The report could also nudge the Federal Reserve toward raising rates at its June meeting. The Federal Open Market Committee said Tuesday it could raise rates at a "measured" pace. Ahead of the jobs report, the market had been pricing in 50-50 odds of a June rate hike.

Job growth was widespread in April, with 61.7 percent of industries adding workers in the month. Services added 246,000 while goods-producing industries added 42,000, according to the survey of business establishments.

Manufacturing employment increased by 21,000, the third straight increase following revisions. Manufacturing employment had not risen for 42 months before February's 7,000 gain. The gains came in durable-goods manufacturing, such as fabricated metals and machinery.

Half of the gains in service jobs came in professional and business services. Temporary help jobs increased by 35,000. Retail added 23,000 jobs. Health care added 30,000 jobs.

The average workweek was steady at 33.7 hours, but total hours worked in the economy increased by 0.3 percent. The factory workweek fell by 0.3 hours to 40.6 hours.

Average hourly wages rose 0.3 percent to $15.59. Hourly wages are up 2.2 percent year-over-year after sinking as low as 1.6 percent year-over-year in February.

A separate survey of households showed employment rose by 278,000 during the month, with 188,000 fewer unemployed workers. The household and establishment surveys had diverged noticeably throughout 2003, with the household survey showing stronger job growth. The payroll figures come from the establishment survey, while the unemployment rate comes from the household survey.

The number of unemployed workers who've been out of work longer than six months plunged by 188,000 to 1.8 million, accounting for 22.1 percent of the 8.2 million jobless workers.

The median duration of unemployment fell to 9.5 weeks from 10.3 weeks in March.