Strong U.S. jobs report propels Dow past 15,000

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A strong national jobs report Friday provided reassurance that the economy is growing, driving the stock market to record levels.

The venerable Dow Jones industrial average briefly climbed over 15,000 for the first time ever, and closed Friday at 14,973.96, up 142.38 points. And the broad Standard & Poor's index broke through 1,600 for the first time, closing at 1,614.42, up 16.83 points.

Powering those gains was the news that U.S. employers added a solid 165,000 jobs in April -- and far more in February and March than anyone had thought.

The job growth in April drove down the U.S. unemployment rate to a four-year low of 7.5 percent. Coming after a poor jobs report for March, the figures the government issued Friday helped ease fears that U.S. hiring might be slumping this spring for a fourth straight year.

Recent jobs data for Long Island have also been strong. In March, the most recent period available, the number of unemployed workers in Nassau and Suffolk counties fell below 100,000 for the first time since 2011, to 99,300. The unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent from 7.4 percent in March 2012. Unlike the national data, local jobs data aren't adjusted for seasonal swings in employment.

The Labor Department Friday revised upward its estimate of national job gains in February and March by a combined 114,000. It now says employers added 332,000 jobs in February and 138,000 in March. The economy has created an average of 208,000 jobs a month from November through April -- above the 138,000 added in the previous six months.

"This is a good report," said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo. "It's good for the economy. It's good for people's income."

The stronger job growth suggests that the federal budget cutting "does not mean recession," Silvia said.

The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen 0.4 percentage point since the start of the year, though it remains high. The Federal Reserve has said it plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent.

The hiring last month was concentrated in services. Construction companies and governments cut jobs. Home builders added staff, while commercial construction companies cut. Manufacturing employment was flat.

Some higher-paying sectors added workers. Professional and technical services, which includes accounting, engineering and architecture, added 23,000 jobs. Education and health services added 44,000.

One cautionary note in the April employment report: Most of the biggest job gains were in lower-paying fields, such as hotels and restaurants, which added 45,000 jobs, and retail, which added 29,000. Temporary-help firms gained 31,000 positions.

Long Island has also experienced growth in lower-paying jobs in areas such as retailing and food services.

The unexpectedly strong jobs numbers jolted markets higher from the start of trading Friday. On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, brokers sported baseball caps emblazoned with "Dow 15,000."

The gains were broad. Eight of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 index rose. Three stocks rose for every one that fell on the NYSE.

The Nasdaq composite index was up 38.01 points, or 1.14 percent, at 3,378.63.With Carrie Mason-Draffen

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