U.S. Maintains Solid Job Growth Pace as Winter Fades

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John Minchillo/AP Images for U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. labor market emerged surprisingly strong from the severe winter, with employers hiring at a brisk pace and the jobless rate holding near a five-year low.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 192,000 jobs last month after rising by 197,000 in February, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent even though Americans flooded the labor market to hunt for work.

"This is a nice number, one of those Goldilocks numbers that is decent but not so good that it gets fears going about interest rates or the economy growing too quickly," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Va.

U.S. stocks traded modestly higher, prices for U.S. Treasury debt rose and the dollar was higher against a broad basket of currencies.

The pace of hiring in March was close to Wall Street's expectations, but the count for the prior two months was revised to show 37,000 more jobs were created than previously reported.

The government's survey of employers also found Americans were working longer hours, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%while the smaller survey of households from which the unemployment rate is derived showed a much larger surge in employment. That jump was met by a rise in the number of people entering the labor force, a show of confidence in the jobs market.

The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, hit a six-month high of 63.2 percent. An even broader gauge of labor market health, the percentage of working-age Americans with a job, reached its highest level since the summer of 2009.

With payrolls and the workweek both rising, a measure of total work effort jumped by the most in more than seven years, suggesting the economy was beginning to accelerate.

"It looks like the party goes on," said Rick Meckler, president of LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, N.J.

An unusually brutal winter slammed the economy at the end of 2013 and the start of this year. Growth was further undercut by efforts by businesses to trim inventories, the expiration of long-term jobless benefits and cuts to food stamps.

But data ranging from manufacturing and services sector activity to automobile sales have signaled strength as the first quarter ended. The jobs data did the same.

Ranks of Long-Term Jobless Thin

The economy's return to a steady pace of job gains should comfort the Federal Reserve as it scales back its bond-buying stimulus program. However, the still-high level of unemployment also should bolster its resolve to keep overnight interest rates near zero for a while.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has pointed to the unusually large number of Americans who are either suffering a long spell of unemployment or who are working part-time because they are unable to find full-time work as reasons to maintain an extraordinarily easy monetary policy.

The number of Americans looking for work for at least six months fell by about 100,000 to 3.7 million in March, but the ranks of Americans working part-time for economic reasons rose modestly.

Some economists had argued a recent rise in earnings might signal a tightening in the jobs market that the Fed might want to monitor closely. However, average hourly earnings for private employers fell back in March, as did a narrower gauge that had been rising more swiftly.

The private sector accounted for all the employment gains in March, with the government sector adding no jobs. The private sector has now recouped all the jobs lost during the 2007-2009 recession.

Manufacturing payrolls fell 1,000, breaking seven months of gains. Factory job growth has been slowing since surging in November. But with auto sales accelerating sharply in March, hiring could rebound in the months ahead.

Construction employment increased by 19,000. It was the third consecutive month of job gains for the sector and occurred despite the housing market's struggles to climb out of a soft patch.

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7 Most-Missed Tax Deductions and Credits
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U.S. Maintains Solid Job Growth Pace as Winter Fades

Taxpayers may forget that donations they gave last year may get them a bigger refund. If you cleaned out your bulging closet and dropped off clothing or household goods at your favorite charity, this may be deductible on your tax return.

Taxpayers taking a full course load and working toward a degree can receive education benefits through the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college expenses. But even those who just took one class to further their career may be able to take the tuition and fees deduction. With this credit, you can deduct up to $4,000 for tuition and fees, books and educational supplies for you, your spouse or your dependents.

Taxpayers can deduct state income taxes, but what about residents of states that don't have a state income tax? In this case, the state and local sales tax deduction is especially useful because these taxpayers can deduct sales tax paid on purchases. Even people who live in states that pay state income tax can benefit if they paid more sales tax due to large purchases.

The earned income tax credit is a refundable tax credit given to filers who earn low to moderate income from their jobs. The credit can be worth up to $6,044, depending on your income and how many dependents you have, but one in five tax filers overlook this opportunity, according to the Internal Revenue Service. You must file your taxes to get it, so even if you make less than $10,000 (the minimum income filing requirement), you should still file your taxes.

If you were looking for a job last year, you may be able to deduct costs related to your job search -- even if you didn't secure a job. Job search expenses such as preparing and sending resumes, fees to placement agencies and even travel related to the job search can be included.

This credit is often overlooked and seldom talked about. If you have an income up to $29,500 ($59,000 for married filing jointly), you can save for retirement and get a tax credit worth up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for couples if you contributed to a qualifying retirement plan such as an individual retirement account or 401(k). The retirement saver's tax credit is a win-win situation since contributions to your IRA may also be a deduction from income.

Taxpayers who weren't so lucky gambling last year should know that losses can be deducted if they itemize their deductions. However, your amount of losses cannot surpass your winnings, which must be reported as taxable income. For example, if you have $2,000 in winnings and $4,000 in losses, your deduction is limited to $2,000. Make sure to collect documentation such as receipts, tickets and other records to support your losses.

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