The economy added 215,000 jobs in March, with the unemployment rate rounding up to 5.0 percent from February's 4.9 percent. However, the modest increase in unemployment was largely good news, since it was the result of another 396,000 people entering the labor force.
There has been a large increase in the labor force over the last six months, especially among prime-age workers (ages 25-54). Since September, the labor force participation rate for prime-age workers has increased by 0.6 percentage points. This seems to support the view that the people who left the labor market during the downturn will come back if they see jobs available. However even with this rise, the employment-to-population ratio for prime-age workers is still down by more than two full percentage points from its pre-recession peak.
Another positive item in the household survey was a large jump in the percentage of unemployment due to voluntary quits. This sign of confidence in the labor market rose to 10.5 percent, the highest level in the recovery, although it's still more than a percentage point below the pre-recession peaks and almost four percentage points below the levels reached in 2000.
While the rate of employment growth in the establishment survey was in line with expectations, average weekly hours remained at 34.4, down from 34.6 in January. As a result, the index of aggregate hours worked is down by 0.2 percent from the January level. This could be a sign of slower job growth in future months.