The Labor Department said in its monthly payroll report released Friday that payrolls in March rose by 431,000, slightly missing the 480,000 jobs forecast by Refinitiv economists. The unemployment rate, which is calculated based on a separate survey, fell to 3.6%, the lowest level since February 2020.
"The jobs report was solid all around, with good monthly job growth, upward revisions to January and February and a bigger-than-expected drop in the unemployment rate," said Bill Adams, chief economist for Comerica Bank.
Job gains were broad-based across industries.
Leisure and hospitality, one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic that has become a bellwether of sorts for the recovery, saw a gain of 112,000 new jobs last month. Restaurants and bars saw an increase of 61,300, while hotels added 25,000 jobs last month. In all, employment in the sector is down by about 1.5 million, or 8.7%, since February 2020.
"Notable job gains continued in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade and manufacturing," the report said.
Professional and business services also accounted for some of the biggest gains last month, with payrolls jumping by 102,000. The increases were widespread across the industry: Computer systems design and related services rose by 12,300, accounting and bookkeeping services jumped by 18,200 and management and technical consulting services was up by 15,100. Employment in the industry is actually 723,000 jobs higher than it was in February 2020.
Education and health services, meanwhile, saw payrolls grow by 53,000 in March, with the biggest gains in ambulatory health care services (7,200), individual and family services (17,600) and child day care services (6,000) as more Americans returned to the office.
Employment in other industries, including information (16,000), wholesale trade (7,000), health care and social assistance (33,300), manufacturing (38,000), financial activities (16,000) and government (5,000) also rose last month.
Just two sectors shed jobs in March: Utilities lost 1,200 jobs and transportation and warehousing saw a decline of 500 positions – largely due to a drop of 4,900 positions in truck transportation. That was slightly offset by an increase of 6,900 among couriers and messengers.