WASHINGTON -- Employers added a surprising 165,000 new jobs in April, helping to push down the unemployment rate to a four-year low of 7.5 percent, the government said Friday in a report that included sharp improvements to prior months.
"The jobs report was a pleasant surprise. Job growth is slowing, but not as much as feared," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for forecaster Moody's Analytics. "The decline in unemployment is also encouraging, particularly because it was driven by an increase in jobs."
There were few blemishes in Friday's jobs report, as it showed job growth in most sectors with only government and construction hiring in decline. Temporary hiring, often a harbinger of future full-time positions, was up sharply for the month, at almost 31,000 positions. The leading gainer was professional and business services, a category that reflects better-paying white-collar jobs.
Retailers added more than 30,000 jobs for the month and, coming on top of strong readings of consumer confidence and healthy auto sales, the report Friday amounted to a reason to exhale relief.
"Finally some reassuring news on jobs and the economy," Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, said in a statement. "Today's solid employment news combined with positive March revisions may bode well for the broader economy and portend steady retail sales in April."
Friday's report included upward revisions to February and March numbers, which are now said to have been 114,000 jobs stronger than first thought.
It all combined to send stocks soaring on Wall Street in early trading. The Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 155 points in the first half-hour of trading and, within an hour, had crossed the psychological barrier of 15000. Since stock prices tend to reflect expectations about the economy six months ahead, the recent spate of improving economic indicators points to a continued bull market that pulls in more investors.
"As the market grinds higher, we think there are a lot of investors who feel they are underweight and worry that they are being left behind," said Richard Slinn, an investment specialist for JP Morgan Private Bank, which manages investments for wealthy clientele.
February's estimate of 268,000 jobs was revised up to 332,000, a solid number that is sure to spark argument about the effects of the government budget sequester that began the following month.
March estimates also were revised upward, from the dismal 88,000 to a healthier but still subpar 138,000 jobs for the first month when across-the-board cuts in federal spending began.