US job growth beats expectations; unemployment now at 4-year low

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AP) - Employment in the United States rose more than expected last month, pushing the unemployment rate to a four-year low of 7.5 per cent, which could help ease concerns of a sharp slowdown in the US economy.

Non-farm payrolls rose 165,000 last month, the Labour Department said on Friday. March's payrolls were raised to 138,000, 50,000 more jobs than previously reported, and February's job count was revised up to 332,000, the largest since May 2010.

An additional 210,000 people started looking for work last month, and many of them found jobs.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected last month's payrolls to rise 145,000 and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 7.6 per cent. The drop in the unemployment rate last month reflected an increase in employment, rather than people leaving the workforce.

Still, details of the report remained consistent with a slowdown in economic activity. Construction employment fell for the first time since May, while manufacturing payrolls were flat.

The report was a reassuring sign that the US job market is improving, despite higher taxes and government spending cuts that took effect this year.

The only sectors of the US economy that cut jobs last month were construction and government.

The unemployment rate has fallen 0.4 percentage point since the start of the year, though it remains high. The Federal Reserve has said it plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 per cent.

A fire overnight at the Labour Department's headquarters shut down the building for most employees. Members of the media were allowed in for the release of the report.