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By Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy added a fairly solid number of new jobs in March as employers reverted to their average pace of hiring after the unusually harsh winter weather.

The Labor Department said Friday that the economy created a net 192,000 new jobs last month, just about as many as in February and the average for all of last year. Economists had forecast job growth of about 200,000 for last month.

The nation’s jobless rate held steady at 6.7 percent in March, but the broader measure of unemployment and underemployment, including part-time workers who want full-time jobs, edged up to 12.7 percent.

Labor Department officials revised up the job-growth numbers for the prior two months — to 197,000 for February, from 175,000 previously estimated; and to 144,000 for January, from an initial tally of 129,000.

With those changes, the economy added an average of 178,000 jobs in the first quarter. That is down from the 194,000 average for last year, but analysts expect job growth to pick up some as employers step up hiring after delays caused by the cold weather across the much of the nation.

Job growth last month was led by business services, which boosted payrolls by 57,000. Half of those gains were at temporary-help firms, another sign that stronger hiring may be in store this spring.

The construction industry added 19,000 jobs, about the same as in February, but hiring in manufacturing was lackluster.

Retail trade rebounded by adding 21,300 jobs, and restaurants continued to hire aggressively last month. Government payrolls were flat.

The length of the average workweek, meanwhile, rose to 34.5 last month from 34.3 in February, the likely result of workers’ hours being restored after being cut by the cold weather.

Average hourly earnings for private-sector employees fell by a penny, to $24.30. Compared with a year ago, earnings were up 2.1 percent, a little more than the rate of inflation.

(For The Record, 6:17 a.m. PDT April 4: An earlier version of this post stated government figures for March showed that average hourly earnings for private-sector employees rose by a penny, to $24.30. They fell by a penny to $24.30.)

AFP Photo/Joe Raedle

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