Companies powered the U.S. job market past a milestone in March as private employment exceeded the pre-recession peak for the first time, showing the kind of progress Federal Reserve officials look for to maintain their current policy course.
Payrolls excluding government agencies rose by 192,000 workers after a 188,000 gain in February that was larger than first estimated, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. That brought the job count to 116.1 million, beating the January 2008 high of 116 million. The jobless rate held at 6.7 percent even as almost half a million people entered the workforce.
“The Fed doesn’t need to do anything at this point, it’s in a bit of a sweet spot,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts, and the top payrolls forecaster in the last two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Growth looks like it’s back on track. Equally good news is that inflation is not a threat right now.”
All of March’s gains came from the private sector. That brought total private payrolls to 116.09 million, surpassing the former peak of 115.98 million in January 2008. Still, the gains haven’t kept pace with population growth. The civilian labor force has grown by roughly 2 million over the past six years.