Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Employers added a better-than-expected 165,000 jobs in April,, easing concerns that payroll growth may be slipping into a sustained mid-year slump.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.5% from 7.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. That's the lowest since December 2008.
Payroll gains for February and March were revised up by a total 114,000. February's gains were revised to 332,000 from 268,000 and March's to 138,000 from 88,000.
April's report exceeded economists' median forecast of 148,000 job gains for last month.
Businesses added 176,000 jobs. Federal, state and local governments cut 11,000. Professional and business services, restaurants and health care led the private-sector job gains.
There were some other positive signs in the report. The number of temporary workers increased by 31,000. The addition of contingent workers typically augurs stronger permanent hiring.
And the number of Americans out of work at least six months fell by 258,000 to 4.3 million.
But there were also some possibly troubling signals. The average workweek fell to 34.4 hours from 34.6 hours. Employers typically increase existing workers' hours before adding new staffers and a decline may mean less future hiring. Many small businesses with around 50 employees may be limiting the hours of workers to fall below the staffing threshold at which they need to provide health insurance under the new health reform law.
Average hourly earnings rose 4 cents to $23.87.
Also, the underemployment rate - a wider gauge of joblessness that includes people who stopped looking for work and part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs, as well as the unemployed - rose to 13.9% from 13.8%.
Several economic reports this week appeared to solidify the view that the economy and job market are mired in a fourth straight spring slump. A survey by payroll processor ADP estimated businesses added just 119,000 jobs last month. Manufacturing activity in April barely grew, while construction spending fell.
Economists have largely blamed the weakening on across-the-board federal spending cuts, a recent payroll tax increase and small business hesitancy to hire because of coming health care insurance requirements.
Yet the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits for the first time fell last week by 18,000 to 324,000, Labor said Thursday. That bolstered some economists' view that the recent downturn was due to a cold March and April and job growth could soon rebound.