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Employers added 303,000 jobs to their payrolls in March and the national unemployment rate ticked downward to 3.8%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday. 

The gain of 330,000 jobs was higher than economists had been expecting and exceeded the average monthly gain of 231,000 jobs per month over the past 12 months. In March, significant job gains occurred in the healthcare, government, and construction sectors. 

Healthcare added 72,000 jobs in March, above the average monthly gain of 60,000 over the prior 12 months. In March, job growth continued in ambulatory health care services (+28,000), hospitals (+27,000), and nursing and residential care facilities (+18,000).  

The 71,000 increase in government jobs also exceeded the average monthly gain of 54,000 total government jobs over the prior 12 months. In March, employment increased in both local government (+49,000) and federal government (+9,000). 

The construction industry added 39,000 jobs in March, about double the average monthly gain of 19,000 over the prior 12 months. Over the month, construction employment growth was strongest among nonresidential specialty trade contractors (+16,000). 

The labor force participation rate (62.7%) and the employment population ratio (60.3%) were both up 0.2 percentage points in March. There has been little change over the past year in both the labor force participation rate, which shows the percentage of working-age people employed or actively seeking work, and the employment population ratio, which measures the civilian labor force against the working age population. 

In March, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 12 cents, or 0.3%, to $34.69. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased 4.1%. 

The monthly Employment Situation report has been closely watched by the Federal Reserve Board, which has been keeping interest rates high to cool the economy and lower inflation. 

The stock market reacted favorably to the latest jobs report showing constrained wage growth and strong hiring. The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq were all up on Friday morning after the latest employment data was released. 

State level unemployment data for March will not be available for another two weeks. In February, New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 4.8%, a full percentage point higher than the national jobless rate.