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Economy Adds 211,000 Jobs in March; Unemployment Rate at 4 1/2 Year Low

Employers added 211,000 jobs in a springtime hiring burst that benefited almost all sectors of the economy and lowered the national unemploment rate to 4.7 percent.

The latest snapshot, released by the Labor Department on Friday, suggested that an accelerating economic expansion is putting companies in the hiring mood, brightening prospects for job seekers.

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Hiring gains were fairly widespread. Construction, retailers, financial activities, education and health care, and government were among the sectors posting payroll gains. That help to blunt job losses in manufacturing and in the transportation industries.

President Bush, whose poll standings have been falling in recent months, said at the White House that the newest figures make an argument for extending and renewing his tax cuts.

"Some are now proposing that we raise taxes either by repealing the tax cuts or letting them expire," he said. "These are the same politicians who told us that letting the American people keep more of their own money would be reckless and irresponsible. They were wrong then and they are wrong now."

The unemployment rate, which dropped from February's 4.8 percent, ended up matching January's jobless rate, which was the lowest in 4 1/2 years.

"Businesses are regaining confidence to the point where they are now actively hiring new workers," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Bank of America's Investment Strategies Group.

Employment was stronger in March than economists were expecting. Before the release of the report, they were forecasting a gain of 190,000 jobs and they said they believed the overall civilian jobless rate would hold steady.

Good news on the economy, however, hasn't been helping Bush in the eyes of the public. Bush's job-approval rating of 36 percent is at its lowest level in an AP-Ipsos poll

On the jobs front, payroll gains in January and February turned out to be slightly less than previously reported but still suggest decent job growth. Employers added 154,000 jobs in January, versus the 170,000 estimated a month ago. In February, payrolls grew by 225,000, rather than the 243,000 previously reported.

Employees' average hourly earnings, meanwhile, were $16.49 in March, a modest 0.2 percent increase from February. Economists were forecasting a 0.3 percent increase.

With the economy growing smartly and the job market flowering, the Federal Reserve and other economists are keeping a close eye on wage growth.

Wage improvement is good for workers, but a rapid, sustained acceleration would trigger inflation concerns.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues boosted interest rates on March 28 to a five-year high and hinted that additional increases were possible to keep inflation at bay.

An improving job market and stepped-up production "in combination with the elevated prices of energy and other commodities have the potential to add to inflation pressures," Fed policymakers said at the March meeting.

Economists believe rates will go up again on May 10.

The report also showed the average time that the 7 million unemployed spent searching for work in March was 16.9 weeks, down from 17.6 weeks in February.

The employment figures for March come against the backdrop of a rebounding economy. Analysts believe the economy emerged from an end-of-year funk and grew at an annual rate of 4.5 percent or higher in the just ended January-to-March quarter. The economy is expected to moderate in the current April-to-June quarter but still turn in a good performance.

The employment report showed that construction companies added 7,000 jobs in March. Retailers expanded employment by 29,000 positions. Financial companies added 16,000 jobs. Education and health care boosted payrolls by 33,000 and the government by 24,000. Manufacturers, however, cut 5,000 jobs and the transportation and warehousing sector shed 7,600 positions.

Click here to visit FOXBusiness.com's Economy page.