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Hiring burst gives economy boost

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A burst of hiring in April provided reassurance for the U.S. economy after a slow start to the year: Job growth returned to a healthy pace. Unemployment hit a decade low. And the number of part-time workers who want full-time jobs reached its lowest point in nine years.

Employers last month added 211,000 jobs, more than double the weak showing in March, the Labor Department said Friday. And the unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent from 4.5 percent in March.

Taken as a whole, the April jobs report suggested that American businesses are confident enough in their outlook for customer demand to keep adding jobs briskly despite a slump in the January-March quarter when the economy barely grew.

The jobs report "does increase our confidence that the soft patch in the first quarter is over," Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays Capital, said in an email to clients.

The gradual shift in hiring from part-time to full-time work is an encouraging one. It suggests that many businesses are meeting rising customer demand by expanding some employees' hours. During much of the economic recovery, the number of part-timers remained unusually high -- one reason why steady job growth didn't produce sharp gains in pay or consumer spending.

The shift toward full-time work has also helped reduce a measure of the job market that includes people who aren't counted as unemployed: They are the part-time workers who want full-time jobs as well as people who have given up their job hunts.

This broader figure reached 8.6 percent in April, the lowest point since November 2007, just before the recession officially began. In 2009, it had topped 17 percent.

That broader measure has been cited by President Donald Trump and his advisers as a more accurate gauge of the job market's health than the unemployment rate.

So far, the job market under Trump closely resembles the one Barack Obama presided over. This year, employers have added an average of 185,000 jobs a month, matching last year's pace.

In his first 3½ months, Trump has sought to put his imprint on the economy. A deputy White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said falsely at a briefing for reporters Friday that job growth in April occurred "especially" in industries where the president has focused: Coal mining, construction and manufacturing. In fact, those three sectors accounted for less than 6 percent of April's job growth.

A representative of the White House, contacted later by The Associated Press, said that Sanders had misspoken.

Some of the job market's scars from the Great Recession have yet to heal.

The proportion of Americans who either have jobs or are looking for one dipped in April to 62.9 percent from 63 percent. While that figure has improved over the past 18 months, it remains well below the prerecession level of 66 percent.

Economists don't expect that figure to get much better.

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