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U.S. job growth booms in March

From CNN's Kathy Hays in New York:

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Spring is here and the long winter of labor market discontent may be over.

The U.S. economy added 308,000 new jobs in March -- the biggest gain in four years.

That's great news to the White House.

"The economy is growing and people are finding work. Today the statistics show we added jobs March," President Bush said in a conversation on the economy and jobs at a community college in West Virginia on Friday. It was also a big surprise on Wall Street.

"This is all we've been talking about," says Linda Jay of LaBranche & Company. "They came out and the numbers are marvelous."

It's true some of the jobs created were in areas where the average wage is lower and benefits are not always part of the job. For example, restaurants and hotels added 27,000 workers and retail businesses -- like department stores, delis and gas stations -- added 47,000 workers.

But industries where wages are growing and most workers get benefits also scored solid job gains. The hot health care field added 36,000 and construction jobs jumped by 71,000, boosted by warm weather in some regions. It looks like the hemorrhaging of high-paid factory jobs may be coming to an end and for the first time in 44 months; the number of jobs in manufacturing did not go down.

The unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.7 percent, but economists said that was actually good news because it shows disillusioned workers are starting to look for work again. "The moment they think there are jobs there, they'll be out looking and the employment rate will start heading up again. I think that's on the whole a good sign at this point in the cycle," says Bill Cheney of John Hancock Financial Services.

Here's the downside: Wages are barely growing. They rose less than 2 percent annualized in March -- that's not even keeping up with inflation.

"Remember, this is only a very small down payment on the job losses that we've experienced in the last four years," says Thomas Kockan of MIT. "We've got a long, long way to go to get this labor market back in shape."

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