The federal government said Friday that 162,000 new jobs were created in March - the most in three years - buoyed by the private sector, which accounted for the bulk of the gains.
In the private sector, 123,000 jobs were created, including 45,000 in education and health services, which gained the most. The federal government gained 48,000 jobs, the Labor Department said, all part-time Census positions.
The news of job growth was welcomed as a step in the right direction, but some economists said the nation faces a long road back to something approaching full employment.
"It's good," said Hunter College economics professor Howard Chernick. "Positive is better than negative."
But he noted that for significant job growth, there has to be recovery in residential and commercial construction and in major manufacturing, such as auto production, both of which are just beginning to show signs of improvement. "Without those two sectors, it's hard to get blowout employment numbers," Chernick said.
Ken Goldstein, an economist at The Conference Board, a nonprofit business and economics information group, said true recovery awaits a resumption of strong consumer spending, a key economic driver.
"Two-thirds of the economy is stuck in first gear," he said Friday.
"Consumers are nervous, they're cautious and therefore the economy doesn't pick up, therefore job growth doesn't happen, therefore the consumer remains nervous. We're kind of stuck in a loop here."
Friday's good news-bad news report said that in addition to the Census positions, which have no benefits and no security, temporary help services added jobs during the month but that employment continued to decline in the financial activities and information sectors.
Teenagers and many minorities continued to endure the highest jobless levels. The Labor Department said the unemployment rate was 26.1 percent among teenagers, 16.5 percent for blacks and 12.6 percent for Hispanics.
The department said also the number of long-term unemployed - those jobless for 27 weeks or more - increased by 414,000 over the month to 6.5 million.
There were 1 million "discouraged workers" in March - unemployed people who have given up looking - 309,000 more than a year earlier, the Labor Department said.
Despite that data, the addition of jobs is a hopeful sign that economists find difficult to dismiss.
"It certainly is good news because it reflects a turnaround in the economy," said Pearl Kamer, economist for the Long Island Association, the Island's major business group.
"It's not significant job growth, but the fact that we're having any job growth at all is significant and, hopefully, this will continue in the foreseeable future."
Where the jobs were added
40,000 Temporary help services
48,000 Federal (mostly part-time Census jobs)
27,000 Health care
22,000 Leisure and Hospitality
15,000 Retail trade