US job creation came back to life in March, with a hiring surge in healthcare, bars and restaurants, while unemployment held steady and worker wages continued to climb, government data showed Friday.
The return to healthy job creation at the close of the third quarter should draw a sigh of relief from the White House after February's anemic result when employers added just 20,000 net new positions, which had been the slowest in 17 months.
The world's largest economy added 196,000 net new positions for the month, well above expectations, while the jobless rate held steady at 3.8%, according to the Labor Department.
The broad consensus among economists is that the United States economy is slowing as the boost from recent tax cuts and fiscal stimulus fades. But President Donald Trump's administration has forecast that 2019 will be another banner year for growth.
Average hourly wages rose four cents for the month, putting them up 3.2% over March of last year, more than twice the pace of consumer inflation over the same period. This gives workers more purchasing power and suggests they will continue to spend despite surprising recent dips in retail sales and consumption.
A dark spot, however, was hiring among manufacturers, a sector hard-hit by Trump's trade war with China. Automakers shed 6,300 jobs. Retailers also gave up nearly 12,000 workers. This was offset by gains in architecture, engineering and management services.
The labor force also shrank as more than 220,000 people stopped looking for work, driving the participation rate down 0.2 percent to 63% -- a level around which it has stubbornly fluctuated for much of the past two years.