WASHINGTON — If you were looking for a job as a teacher last month, you were in luck. Same goes for health workers, retail clerks and building contractors.
All told, the economy added 180,000 new jobs, dropping unemployment to a 4.4 percent rate that matched a five-year low.
The mostly positive snapshot of the nation's employment climate, released by the Labor Department on Friday, showed that companies ramped up hiring and paid workers more. That's good news for employees and jobseekers and bodes well for the national economy, too, which is suffering a sluggish spell and a painful housing slump.
"For most people, the job market is still hitting on a lot of cylinders, especially for people who are willing to upgrade their skills. It is not leaving a large number of people stranded," said John Challenger, chief of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employment research firm. "But there are pockets where people are having a difficult time," he said.
Those include people looking for work at factories, where jobs in March were cut for the ninth straight month. Makers of autos, furniture, clothing and textiles all eliminated jobs last month. Another soft spot: residential construction, a casualty of the housing slump.
But there were many more job winners than losers. Construction jobs led the way, especially for contractors and for commercial building. Retailers, health care providers, educational services and leisure and hospitality companies were among those boosting their payrolls.
"Businesses have a very good appetite for hiring workers. The job market is sturdy," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "It is a good time to be looking for a job, particularly if you have skills and education."
Against that backdrop, unemployment fell from 4.5 percent in February to 4.4 percent in March. That matched the rate in October — the lowest in five years.
Here, too, there were winners and losers.
The unemployment rate for Hispanics dropped to 5.1 percent, a three-month low, while the rate for blacks climbed to 8.3 percent, a three-month high. The rate for women held steady at 3.8 percent. The rate for men declined to 4 percent.
The economy ended up adding 32,000 more jobs in January and February combined than the government estimated a month ago. Economists found that encouraging in assessing the health of the job market and the overall economy.
Workers' paychecks grew last month.
Average hourly earnings climbed to $17.22, up from $16.55 a year earlier. That represented a solid 4 percent increase.
Wage growth is good for workers and supports consumer spending, which is indispensable to the economy's good health. But a rapid pickup — if prolonged and not blunted by other economic forces — can raise fears about inflation.
Spiraling inflation would whittle away any wage gains, hurting workers' wallets. The Federal Reserve's biggest concern is that inflation could flare up.
Even so, many economists predict the Fed will keep interest rates where they are for much of this year.
In a separate report, the Fed said consumers borrowed less freely in February; they boosted their use of credit at a 1.5 percent pace, the slowest in four months. The moderation reflected less demand for auto, educational and other loans.