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Economy added 215,000 jobs in March

Lynne Saldky/Associiated Press/file 2015

US employers notched another solid month of hiring in March by adding 215,000 jobs, driven by large gains in the construction, retail, and health care industries.

Despite the jump, the Labor Department said Friday the unemployment rate ticked up to 5 percent from 4.9 percent. But that increase includes some good news: More Americans are looking for work, though not all found jobs.

The figures suggest employers remain confident enough in their business prospects to add staff, even as overall growth has slowed since last winter. Many analysts estimate the economy grew at a 1 percent annual rate or below in the first quarter. Continuing job gains indicate employers may see the slowdown as temporary.

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In March, nearly 400,000 people began job hunts. And since September, 2.4 million people have either found jobs or started looking. The proportion of Americans working or looking for work, known as the ‘‘participation rate,’’ has increased to 63 percent during that time, from 62.4 percent, a 38-year low.

‘‘The rise . . . over the past six months has been truly astounding, suggesting that the job market is finally pulling discouraged workers off the sidelines,’’ said James Marple, an economist at TD Bank.

Steady hiring is also contributing to higher pay, with average hourly earnings rising a modest 2.3 percent from a year earlier to $25.43. That figure has increased since the early years of the recovery, but is below a peak of 2.6 percent reached in December.

Sluggish wage growth has been a weak spot in the economy and a source of frustration for many workers since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Paychecks typically grow at a 3.5 percent pace in a strong economy.