(Reuters) - U.S. employers maintained a solid pace of hiring for a second straight month in March, providing further evidence the economy was shifting into higher gear after being held back by a brutally cold winter.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 192,000 new jobs last month after rising by 197,000 in February, the Labor Department said on Friday. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent, as Americans flooded the labor market.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected employment to increase 200,000 last month and the unemployment rate to fall one-tenth of a percentage point.
The payrolls count for January and February was revised to show 37,000 more job created during those months than previously reported. A Labor Department official said harsh weather had a slight impact on hours worked last month.
The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one rose to a six-month high of 63.2 percent from 63 percent in February.
An unusually cold and snowy winter slammed the economy at the end of 2013 and the beginning of this year. Growth was further undercut by efforts by businesses to trim bloated inventories, the expiration of benefits for the long-term unemployed and cuts to food stamps.
But data ranging from manufacturing and services sector activity to automobile sales have signaled strength in the economy as the first quarter ended.
The steady pace of job gains should allow the Federal Reserve to continue scaling back its monetary stimulus and keep overnight interest rates near zero for a while.Fed Chair Janet Yellen has argued the central bank needs to maintain a highly accommodative monetary policy for some time to eliminate slack in the labor market.
The private sector accounted for all the employment gains in March, with the government adding no jobs. The private sector has now recouped all the jobs lost during the recent recession.
Manufacturing payrolls fell 1,000, breaking seven months of gains. Factory job growth has been slowing since surging in November. But with auto sales accelerating sharply in March, hiring could rebound in the months ahead.
Construction employment increased by 19,000. It was the third consecutive month of job gains for the sector and occurred despite the housing market struggling to climb out of a soft patch.
Average hourly earnings dipped by a cent in March, while the length of the workweek increased to 34.5 hours from an average of 34.2 hours in February - another bullish sign.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)