244,000 jobs added in April for the third straight month of growth

WASHINGTON — The American economy created a healthy batch of new jobs in April for the third straight month, allaying fears of a stall in hiring due to higher oil prices and concerns about an economic slowdown.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers last month added 244,000 new net jobs across a broad spectrum of industries. That was similar to the payroll growth in March and February. But the jobless rate for April edged up to 9 percent, from 8.8 percent in March, a reflection partly of more people returning to look for work as signs of hiring having picked up.

Despite the upturn in the jobless rate — after dropping continuously since November's rate of 9.8 percent — the latest jobs report was sure to elicit a sigh of relief from many corners.

Analysts were generally forecasting job gains of about 185,000 for April, and some had ratcheted down their expectations in recent days in the wake of other reports showing the economy may have hit a soft patch at the start of spring, as it did last year this time.

It was reported earlier that U.S. economic output expanded in the first quarter at an anemic 1.8 percent annual rate, and unemployment claims have been surging in recent weeks amid sharply higher fuel prices and concerns about the economic outlook with uncertainties surrounding the Middle East, Japan and Europe.

Some analysts remained concerned that the recent hiring momentum can be maintained given those global shocks and problems on the domestic front, including the nation's budget deficits and insistence by many employers to hold the line on labor costs as prices for commodities and other goods have risen.

The U.S. still economy has a long way to go to make up the more than 8.5 million jobs lost during the recession years 2008 and 2009.

Since the job market hit bottom in February 2010, the economy has recovered about 1.8 million jobs. The number of officially unemployed stood at 13.75 million in April, up from March.

Millions of people dropped out of the job market in the last three years, and more of them will probably start returning as they see improvements in their employment prospects. The hiring last month was led by the retail industry, which added 57,100 workers to their payrolls last month. About half of these were in general merchandise stores.

Manufacturing continued to strengthen, taking on 29,000 more workers. Since December 2009, factory payrolls have risen by 250,000, the Labor Department said.

Business and professional services, which generally pay higher-than-average wages, increased by 51,000, with consulting businesses, computer services and architectural firms all showing solid growth. Government was the only major employment group that saw a meaningful decline as its payrolls shrank by 24,000, mostly because of cuts at state and public agencies.

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