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April jobs report beats expectations

The U.S. economy added 288,000 jobs in April. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3%.

The U.S. economy added 288,000 jobs in April, showing signs of a thaw after a particularly harsh winter slowed growth. The unemployment rate also fell to 6.3%, the lowest level in more than five years. 

Economists and Wall Street analysts had expected the economy to heat up last month after a winter of lackluster gains, but the report exceeded even their expectations of 215,000 jobs created in April.

The biggest gains were in the professional and business services sector, which includes everything from temporary help services, which added 24,000 jobs in April, to company management. New jobs in retail sales, construction and health services also helped fuel last month's gains.

But there were also some mixed signals about the overall health of the labor market.

Most notably, the labor force participation rate—which includes those who are employed or actively searching for work—fell by 0.4% to 62.8%. There isn't a clear trend: As the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, the participation rate increased slightly last month, and it's now basically the same as it was last October. But overall it has remained at historic lows, which has left economists to worry that there won't be enough people in the labor market to sustain health long-term growth.

It has also raised questions about what's happening to those already on the margins of the labor market. While the number of long-term unemployed fell by 287,000 in April, it's unclear how many people are no longer being counted as unemployed because they've given up the search for work altogether. And the total number of long-term unemployed overall remains high at 3.5 million—more than a third of the total unemployed.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that April's jobless rate was the lowest in more than six years. It is the lowest since September 2008.