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U.S. Unemployment Rate Rises

April 3, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The economy created far few jobs than usual in March, especially in construction, pushing the nation’s unemployment rate to 4.7 percent.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of U.S. jobs dropped by 36,000, the first decline since blizzards temporarily shut down businesses across the Northeast in January 1996, the Labor Department said today.

That helped nudge unemployment up from February’s 24-year-low of 4.6 percent.

The department attributed the drop to an unusual hiring pattern when mild weather caused by the El Nino current in the Pacific Ocean permitted construction to continue through the winter in many parts of the country. Plus, March was chillier than usual.

Job growth had been unusually strong from October through February, averaging 345,000 a month after seasonal adjustment.

``Large numbers of construction workers normally are laid off during the November-to-February period,″ explained Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Katharine G. Abraham.

``During the recent winter, however, fewer workers than normal were laid off,″ she said. ``With so many construction jobs already filled, early spring hiring fell short of its usual pace.″

After four months of very strong growth, construction payrolls shrank by 88,000 jobs in March, the worst decline in seven years.

Factory payroll figures confirmed other reports suggesting that a drop in exports to financially troubled Asia has slowed the expansion of production. Factories increased jobs by only 3,000 in March and 1,000 in February after adding 169,000 positions during the previous four months.

The average workweek fell from 42 hours in February to 41.7 hours in March and is now a half hour shorter than its post-World War II high reached in December.

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