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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Jobless Rate Dives To Lowest In 29 Years

NEW YORK -- The United States' jobless rate dropped in March to its lowest level in 29 years, the Labor Department reported, falling from 4.4 percent in February to 4.2 percent in the latest of many signs that the labor market in the United States remains remarkably robust.

But in a break from the feverish hiring of the last three years, American companies added far fewer new workers to their payrolls last month than had been typical lately.

After creating nearly 300,000 additional jobs in February, employers expanded payrolls by a mere 46,000 in March when a burst of cold weather held down the usual seasonal upswing in hiring in industries from construction and landscaping to fast food. Still, hiring was nearly as strong as ever in most of the vast service economy.

Indeed, for workers, particularly those at the bottom of the ladder, the recent experience with sustained low unemployment - joblessness has been at or below 4.5 percent for nearly a year - has clearly started to deliver solid benefits. The 30-year trend that has depressed pay and job opportunities the most for the least educated and the least skilled seems to have stopped dead in its tracks, at least for now.

"What's really exciting about this report is that our policies are working well for the people who need it the most," Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said Friday. "We haven't just touched them, we've literally propelled them into the new economy."

In a striking turnaround, the jobless rate among high-school dropouts fell to 6.1 percent in March, down from 7.5 percent in February. A one-month change is not necessarily reliable, but that is now half the jobless rate dropouts faced in 1992.

The unemployment rate for those with only a high school degree - 3.4 percent - now resembles what used to be typical for college graduates.

"A lot of people who used to be hiring college grads are setting their sights lower," said David Wyss, chief economist at DRI McGraw Hill in Lexington, Massachusetts. "Or if they were hiring high-school grads, they're saying, 'I can get by with a high-school dropout.'"

Minorities are benefiting enormously from the heavy demand for workers. Last month, for example, joblessness among Hispanics fell to 5.8 percent, the lowest level since the Labor Department began compiling statistics separately on the group in the early 1970s. "The fastest-growing population is taking real advantage of this fast-growing economy," Herman said.

The rate for blacks was 8.1 percent, close to the historic lows reached a couple of months ago. By comparison, the jobless rate for whites was 3.6 percent.

To be sure, the unemployment rate fell in March largely because of a sharp contraction in the labor force. (The unemployment rate is calculated from data gathered from a survey of households, different from the payroll statistics collected from employers.)

But the labor force had been growing about 50 percent faster than its long-term trend of about 1 percent a year and seems simply to have fallen back in line with the long-term pattern in March.