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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
US job creation finally under way
George W Bush
The jobs figures are vital for George W Bush in election year
The US's 'jobless recovery' could be over after the economy added an extra 308,000 jobs in March - almost three times more than had been expected.

The rise is the highest monthly gain for four years and could help President George W Bush in an election year.

Most of the new positions were created in the service sector (230,000) followed by construction (71,000) and retail (47,000).

Manufacturing posted no change, but ended 43 months of layoffs in a row.

The job creation figures thrilled investors and Wall Street rallied on opening.

The Nasdaq was up 33.28 points or 1.65% to 2048.29, while the Dow Jones rose by 112.1 points or 1.08% to 10485.4.

The 308,000 overall rise in new jobs compares with just 21,000 added in February, and market expectations for March of between 103,000 and 120,000.

Economic growth

Chris Lowe of FTN Financial said strong jobs growth in the economically dominant services sector was an encouraging sign.

"That's the sector that's really been lagging since the 2001 recession," he told the BBC 's World Business Report.

"The focus has been very much on job creation, or the lack of it, so I think this is going to give Bush a tremendous boost.

"This is typical post-recession stuff, it's just delayed by about a year beyond normal."

The 308,000 figure from the US Labor Department is the biggest monthly jobs rise since April 2000.

Looking ahead

Elizabeth Denison, economist with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, said she wanted to see job creation continue at such levels.

"We want to see if for a few months to be sure that it is being sustained, but it seems like a positive development," she said.

"They have been hiring across the board in the private sector."

The US professional and business services sector added 42,000 jobs, education and health 39,000, leisure and hospitality 28,000, and government 31,000.

At the same time the US unemployment rate grew slightly to 5.7% from 5.6% in February.

This often happens initially as better economic news adds to the potential labour force, increasing the number of people now actively seeking work.

The US economy has been growing strongly in the last two quarters of 2003, with a growth rate of over 4%.

But its failure to create many jobs so far had sparked a fierce political debate about the effect of trade and outsourcing of jobs.

Mr Kerry has accused the Bush administration of encouraging US firms to relocate jobs abroad.

But most economists argue that the outsourcing of jobs ultimately benefits the US economy by lowering prices and putting more purchasing power in the hands of consumers.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"The figures are the best in four years"


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