© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Construction workers line up to take a temperature test and return to the job site
By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. employers hired more workers than expected in March, fueled by increased vaccines and more pandemic aid money from the government, cementing expectations that an economic boom was taking place. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 916,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. That was the biggest gain since last August. Data for February was revised up to show 468,000 jobs created instead of the 379,000 previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a payroll increase by 647,000 jobs in March. The unemployment rate fell to 6.0% last month from 6.2% in February. The unemployment rate has been underestimated by people who are wrongly classified as “employed but absent from work.” The employment report, which has been closely followed, marked a painful anniversary for the labor market. The March 2020 employment report was the first to reflect mandatory closures of non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars and gyms to delay the start of the newly emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 1.7 million jobs were lost that month and another 20.7 million would disappear in April. Economists estimate that it could take at least two years to regain the more than 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic. As of Tuesday morning, the United States had administered 147.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country and distributed 189.5 million doses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The White House‘s massive $ 1.9 trillion pandemic aid package approved in March is sending additional checks for $ 1,400 to qualified households and new funding for businesses. Economists expect job growth to average at least 700,000 a month in the second and third quarters. That, combined with fiscal stimulus and about $ 19 trillion in excess savings accumulated by households during the pandemic, is expected to trigger a powerful wave of pent-up demand. Estimates of gross domestic product for the first quarter are as high as an annualized rate of 10.0%. The economy grew at a 4.3% rate in the fourth quarter. Growth this year could exceed 7%, which would be the fastest since 1984. The economy contracted 3.5% in 2020, the worst performance in 74 years.