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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 8, 2006

Jobless rate falls to 4.7% nationally

By Jeannine Aversa
Associated Press

WASHINGTON Employers feeling upbeat about the economy boosted hiring by 211,000 in a springtime burst that pushed the unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent, matching its lowest point in 4 1/2 years.

The employment picture for March, released by the Labor Department yesterday, suggested that a strengthening economic expansion is putting companies in the hiring mood and brightening prospects for job seekers.

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

"I think the job market is on a roll," said Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services. "Businesses are doing pretty well these days. Profits are growing nicely. I think businesses are at a point where they feel more comfortable adding people."

But on Wall Street, stocks sank as investors fretted that businesses' growing appetite for workers might drive up wages and inflation.

President Bush, coping with low job-approval ratings in a congressional election year, said the job figures provided "evidence of an economic resurgence that is strong, broad and benefiting all Americans." The president said his tax cuts were central to this and called on Congress to make them permanent.

Democrats, however, countered that the tax cuts mainly helped the wealthy and helped plunge the nation's balance sheets into red ink. Rep. George Miller of California called Bush "completely out of touch with reality."

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said: "Mothers and fathers are working harder and longer and struggling to keep up with the soaring costs of health insurance, gas and college tuition."

Some recent good news on the economy 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. When it comes to his handling of the economy, 59 percent said they disapproved.

The unemployment rate, which dropped from February's 4.8 percent, ended up matching January's jobless rate.

For blacks, though, the unemployment rate didn't budge: It held steady at 9.3 percent in March. The unemployment rate for Hispanics dipped to 5.4 percent last month, and the jobless rate for whites edged down to 4 percent.

Overall employment was stronger in March than economists were expecting.