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Politics

Unemployment headed to 9.5%

An increase in employment in March is good news at face value. It’s even better news when you look more closely at the numbers.

Here’s the really good news in the March unemployment report: Private sector payrolls are up by an average of 66,000 a month over February and March -- the best gain since October-November of 2007, just before the recession began.

No matter how you look at it, the March increase of 162,000 in total employment is positive -- the best monthly showing in exactly three years. What’s more, the government’s initial tally of 62,000 jobs lost over the January-February period was revised up to no change overall.

But a number of special factors were at play. February’s blizzards, for example, took a heavy toll on that month’s results, and the March return of construction workers, in particular, helped lift employment in March. Additionally, 58,000 temporary Census workers were added last month, accounting for roughly a third of the total increase. To cut through that noise, it’s helpful to look only at nongovernment employment and to consider the February-March average, to smooth out weather distortions.

By late summer, we expect growth to be running at about 150,000 a month, with about a million jobs added over the year.

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Despite the encouraging news, there’s still a long way to go before the labor market returns to normal. The jobless rate remained at 9.7% in March, and it will take years before it returns to the 5% rate we consider normal.