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The U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs last month, as vaccine distribution improved, Congress approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus package and states across the country lifted restrictions on businesses.

© Jeff Chiu/AP A sign reading “Welcome Back Now Open” is posted on the window of a Morton’s Steakhouse in San Francisco in early March. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

The unemployment rate edged down to 6 percent from 6.2 percent in February, according to the monthly report, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report comes a year after the pandemic threw the U.S. economy into a tailspin.

The labor market recovered about 12 million of the 22 million jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic by October. But pace of the recovery had slowed drastically by then, churning sluggishly through winter as the virus surged through the holidays and into the New Year.

The March data — the largest number of jobs added since August and the third straight month of growth — may signal a turning point. The survey was taken the week of March 12th, the same week that the stimulus package passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate was signed into law by President Biden.

“This is a wonderful report. Hopefully we have many more months like it ahead,” said Nick Bunker, the economic research director at Indeed, a jobs listing service. ‘It’s fantastic to see the big bounce back in job gains.”

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This data also showed a reversal of a trend troubling economists: Women driven out of the workforce by the disproportionate impact of pandemic restrictions on female-dominated industries and the lack of school and adequate childcare options.

In March, 492,000 women reentered the workforce as schools reopened, while 144,000 men left it, bringing the number of men and women who have left the workforce into roughly equal proportions, according to Labor Department data.

In February, about 56 percent of the people who had left the workforce over the last year were women. Now women represent less than half of those displaced workers.If that trend continues it could calm concerns that women wouldn’t return the workforce, slowing the pace of the recovery.

“It’s the beginning of the end of the she-cession,” said Diane Swonk chief economist at Grant Thornton. “The minute schools reopened, and jobs were there, they came back.”

The increase was driven by gains in industries that have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

The leisure and hospitality sectors added 280,000 jobs last month as coronavirus restrictions eased around the country. Most of that increase, about 176,000 jobs, came from hiring at restaurants, bars and other food service establishments. Arts, entertainment and recreation facilities gained 64,000 jobs, and hotels, about 40,000.

The sector still remains about a 3 million jobs short of where it was in before the pandemic.

Elsewhere, employment rose 126,000 in public education at the state and local levels, and 64,000 in private education. Construction added 110,000 jobs after reporting a disappointing decline in February.

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Transportation and warehousing added 48,000 jobs, and retail added 23,000 jobs, driven by growth in clothing stores, motor vehicle and parts dealers, and furniture and home furnishing stores.

There is much work to be done before the economy returns to its pre-pandemic strength. There are still about 8.5 million less jobs now, than in February 2020, and that doesn’t include the growth in the labor market that would have likely occurred over the last year under normal circumstances.

At the current rate of jobs growth it would take until June 2022 to return the economy to where it would have been had the pandemic not occurred, Bunker said.

And some economists warn that the unemployment rate is misleadingly low, noting that the nearly 4 million people who have left the labor force in the last year are not included in the calculation.

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