April jobs report: U.S. economy adds 165,000 new jobs

The U.S. economy added a better-than-expected 165,000 new jobs in April, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Labor, and the official unemployment rate fell to 7.5%. It was 7.6% the previous month.

Leading up to the report, a mix of indicators had analysts predicting about 145,000 new jobs. The monthly ADP report forecast 119,000 new jobs, down from the 158,000 the payroll services firm reported in March. However, the government said weekly new unemployment claims fell to 324,000, the lowest level in five years, a sign that companies felt less pressure to lay people off.

For March, the Department of Labor's preliminary reports said the economy added only 88,000 new jobs, which was the smallest gain of the previous nine months and well below the encouraging 236,000 net new jobs first reported in February of 2013. In the April report, the Department of Labor revised upward the February and March numbers by a total of 114,000 jobs and now says 332,000 new jobs were created in February, the largest one-month total since May of 2010.

The labor force participation rate remained steady at 63.3%, meaning the unemployment rate fell mainly because more people found work last month, not because more people stopped looking. The report estimates that 11.6 million people who want a job could not find one.

As a guide of economic strength, economists say the U.S. economy must create at least 150,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with changes in population and the labor market, and it must create about 250,000 to quickly bring down the unemployment rate.

April's jobs data offered a relatively encouraging sign for the nation's up-and-down economy. Elsewhere, consumer confidence climbed back to 68.1 in April, after having dropped by almost nine points in March, but U.S. manufacturing grew at its slowest pace since the beginning of the year. After modest gains in previous months, the Department of Labor's preliminary data indicates that manufacturing employment remained flat in April.

Still, the national unemployment rate edged closer to the 6.5% threshold the Federal Reserve Board has establshed to raise benchmark interest rates.