SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Some promising news on the jobs front: The unemployment rate in the United States has fallen to 8.9 percent. The U.S. Labor Department released the new numbers yesterday. It says that overall, the country gained 192,000 jobs last month. Economists say that shows that job growth is finally gaining.
NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
CHRIS ARNOLD: One bright spot on the jobs report: manufacturing. It'd be easy to think that factory work is steadily disappearing in this country but in fact, there've been steady job gains recently. Just last month, manufacturing created 33,000 new jobs.
(Soundbite of factory machinery)
Mr. PATRICK O'CONNELL (Vice President of Operations, AccuRounds): Yeah. Well, we just decided to hire on three new employees.
ARNOLD: Patrick O'Connell is the vice president of operations for AccuRounds in Avon, Massachusetts. The company makes specialized metal parts.
And the receptionist was saying everything you make is round. I mean, is that...
Mr. O'CONNELL: Yeah, that's - yeah, everything we do is round, cylindrical parts. So shocks, bearings, pins, stuff like that.
ARNOLD: The company makes metal posts for replacement teeth and dental crowns, parts for robots, the tubes for making flu vaccine. Out on the floor, operator Joe Pelson(ph) is using a big, computer-controlled machine to drill a tiny hole in a needle that's used to make microchips. A small river of oil is kept sloshing over the drill that's inside the machine.
Mr. O'CONNELL: So the hole can be...what's this?
Mr. JOE PELSON (Operator, AccuRounds): Smallest hole is four-thousandths.
Mr. O'CONNELL: Right. So we're doing four-thousandths of an inch, which is smaller than a human hair in that hole. So can you image what kind of drill we have to use to go through, and the precision that it takes to make them? We're making hundreds and hundreds of these.
ARNOLD: And by looking at the orders that are coming in here, you can see what kinds of companies are doing more business again.
Mr. O'CONNELL: Semiconductor activity, or companies that are in the semiconductor sector, and we've seen a large increase in that activity over the last three months. It's very encouraging.
ARNOLD: This latest jobs report actually showed pretty strong growth across most industries - which is encouraging to economists, too.
Mr. NARIMAN BEHRAVESH (Chief Economist and Executive Vice President, IHS Global Insight): This is a really good set of numbers.
ARNOLD: Nariman Behravesh is chief economist at IHS Global Insight. He says 192,000 new jobs is some pretty solid job growth. And he likes that the Labor Department revised the previous months' numbers upwards.
Mr. BEHRAVESH: If you average the last three months' job growth, it's close to 150,000, and that's starting to be pretty good. And now, it seems to be picking up steam. And so finally - finally - the recovery seems to be reaching the jobs market.
ARNOLD: President Obama, it turns out, was pretty exuberant, too. Austan Goolsbee is the president's top economic adviser.
Mr. AUSTAN GOOLSBEE (Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers): Well, you know, he was happy. I got a fist bump.
ARNOLD: Goolsbee has been watching the unemployment rate fall sharply this winter - from up near 10, down to now below 9 percent.
Mr. GOOLSBEE: This three-month drop - from 9.8 - is the biggest three-month drop in 27 years, and that's clearly the right way we want to be moving.
ARNOLD: That is not to say that the unemployment problem is over. Companies are hiring, and at a pace that should continue to bring down unemployment, but slowly.
Nariman Behravesh only expects it to fall to around 8 percent by the end of the year. And there are still 6 million Americans who've been out of work for more than six months.
(Soundbite of drilling)
ARNOLD: Back at the AccuRounds factory, computer-controlled machine operator Richard Rogers is one of the workers who's been hired in recent months. Before that, he was out of work for a long time.
Mr. RICHARD ROGERS (Operator, AccuRounds): I was out of work for two years, but I was in school for a year.
ARNOLD: Rogers ended up going to a community college in another state - in Connecticut - to get the kind of training that he needed to get a job in a high-tech factory like this. Meanwhile, he was struggling to help put two kids through college. And being 60 years old, he says it was hard not to get pessimistic.
Mr. ROGERS: My biggest fear was finding someone who would hire me at my age. You know, I'm not a young man. It's tough. But I mean, it took me a while. But I mean, I got a good education, and I just started applying.
ARNOLD: But at least for now, there are still some 14 million unemployed Americans who are looking for work.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.
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