Job Growth Almost Doubles in March, Spurring Hope

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the March jobs report in the State Dining Room of the White House on April 2, 2021 in Washington, DC.
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The U.S. economy in March added the most jobs in seven months—almost double the gain in February—inspiring optimism that the labor market has emerged from the pandemic’s grip.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 916,000 in March, more than in any month since August, data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed. The gain was well above the 630,000 jobs economists had been expecting, according to a median estimate cited by Moody’s Analytics. The unemployment rate fell to 6.0% from 6.2% in February.

Key Takeaways

  • The labor market added 916,000 jobs in March, the best month for job growth since August.
  • The biggest winners were the leisure and hospitality sector, schools, and the construction industry.
  • March’s gains could just be the start, with one economist predicting more than 1 million jobs will be added in each of the next two months.

The March jump, plus additional gains in January and February numbers—they were revised higher by a total of 156,000 jobs—is fueling optimism that the recovery in the job market is finally taking off. There are still 8.4 million fewer jobs than there were before the COVID-19 pandemic, but economists are predicting that government stimulus money and a stepped-up vaccination campaign will spur an impressive acceleration in job growth in the coming quarters.

“It's not inconceivable that all the jobs lost during the pandemic are regained before year-end,” ING Chief International Economist James Knightley wrote in a commentary. All signs point to job growth of more than 1 million in April and May, he said.

Restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus have hurt restaurants, bars, and schools for the entire year—leisure and hospitality alone remains 3.1 million jobs below where it was before the pandemic—while bad weather in February hampered construction. But the biggest growth in March came in some of these hard-hit industries: leisure and hospitality (280,000 jobs added), public and private education (190,000 jobs added), and construction (110,000 jobs added).

Service-based businesses should continue to see stronger gains in the coming months as conditions improve and anxieties about the pandemic fade, some economists said.

“Let the hiring spree begin,” Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a commentary. She expects 7.5 million jobs to be added in 2021.

Biden Marks the Progress

President Joe Biden used the occasion—and the optimism—to mark the progress made since the depths of the pandemic, and to stump for his American Rescue Plan and a new infrastructure package he’s calling the American Jobs Plan. The unemployment rate is still well above the 3.5% rate in February of last year, before the pandemic began.

“The bottom line is this: today’s report is good news,” Biden said during remarks from the State Dining Room at the White House. “We still have a long way to go, but I know that we are going to get there, and we are going to get there together.”

Biden acknowledged many people have been out of work for long stretches during the pandemic, and that women and people of color have suffered disproportionately. Despite some gains, Black and African American people, and Hispanic and Latino people, remain worse off than the population on average, with unemployment rates of 9.6% and 7.9%, respectively.

“We still have a long way to go to get our economy back on track after the worst economic and job crisis in nearly a century,” Biden said. “My message to the American people is this: Help is here. Opportunity is coming. And at long last, there is hope for so many families.”