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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added jobs at a solid pace in March and hired more in January and February than previously thought. Friday's government report sent a reassuring signal that the economy withstood a harsh winter that had slowed growth.

The economy gained 192,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said Friday, slightly below February's revised total of 197,000. Employers added a combined 37,000 more jobs in January and February than previously estimated.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent. But a half-million Americans started looking for work last month, and most of them found jobs. The increase in job-seekers is a sign that they were more optimistic about their prospects.

"We're back to where we were before the weather got bad," said John Canally, economist at LPL Financial. "It's a nice, even report that suggests the labor market is expanding."

March's job gain nearly matched last year's average monthly total, suggesting that the job market has mostly recovered from the previous months' severe winter weather.

Stocks rose modestly soon after trading began, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.76 percent from 2.8 percent late Thursday.

The March report included one milestone: More than six years after the Great Recession began, private employers have finally regained all the jobs lost to the recession. The employers shed 8.8 million jobs in the downturn; they've since hired 8.9 million. Still, the population has grown over that time, leaving the unemployment rate elevated.

The proportion of Americans in the labor force — those either working or seeking work — has rebounded this year after steady declines since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted that the labor force increased by 1.5 million in the January-March quarter after shrinking by 500,000 last year.

Encouragingly, the percentage of Americans age 16 or older who were working reached 58.9 percent in March — its highest point since 2009.

Americans worked an average of 34.5 hours last month, up from 34.3 in February, which was held back by the severe weather. The increase, though small, means many Americans received larger weekly paychecks.

Yet average hourly pay slipped a penny to $24.30 after a big 10-cent gain in February. That was a disappointment for many economists, who thought February's sharp increase might mark the start of a trend. Average hourly wages have risen 2.1 percent in the past year. Inflation has risen 1.1 percent in that time.

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowstorms this winter closed factories, slowed home sales and kept consumers away from shopping malls. Hiring averaged 178,000 in the first three months of this year, down from 198,000 a month in the final three months of 2013.

Still, many economists expect hiring to average about 200,000 jobs a month for the rest of the year. Hiring at that pace should lower the unemployment rate and support steady growth.

Other recent economic data suggest that the economy is picking up from the winter freeze.

Auto sales jumped 6 percent last month to 1.5 million, the most since November. That was a sign that Americans remain willing to spend on big purchases.

And surveys by the Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, showed that both manufacturing and service companies expanded at a faster pace in March. Factories cranked out more goods and received slightly more orders, a good sign for future production. Service companies also received more orders.

Home sales and construction, however, have been weak in recent months. Sales of existing homes have fallen in six out of the past seven months. Cold weather has likely caused some of the decline. But higher mortgage rates, rising prices and a limited supply of available homes have also held back sales.

Many economists think growth slowed to a 1.5 percent to 2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, down from a 2.6 percent pace in last year's fourth quarter. But most also forecast that steady hiring and less drag from government spending cuts should lift growth to nearly a 3 percent annual pace for the rest of the year.

___

AP Economics Writers Josh Boak and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

___

Contact Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber .

FORT HOOD GUNMAN HAD 'UNSTABLE' MENTAL CONDITION

Friday, 04 April 2014 08:46 Published in National News

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Unstable mental health may be a "fundamental, underlying cause" of a soldier's shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left four people dead, though an argument with another service member likely preceded the attack, according to investigators.

Spc. Ivan Lopez turned his gun on himself after killing three people and wounding 16 others Wednesday at the sprawling Texas military base, where more than a dozen people were fatally shot by a soldier in 2009. An Army truck driver from Puerto Rico, Lopez was undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety while being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, base officials said.

Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, senior officer at the nation's largest Army base, said there was a "strong indication" that Lopez was involved in a verbal altercation shortly before the shooting, though it doesn't appear he targeted specific soldiers during the attack. But investigators also are focusing on his mental health.

"We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological condition," Milley said. "We believe that to be a fundamental, underlying cause."

Lopez had reported to medical personnel that he'd suffered a traumatic brain injury. The 34-year-old served four months in Iraq but saw no combat, and he previously had demonstrated no apparent risk of violence.

He seemed to have a clean record that showed no ties to potential terrorists, though military officials said the investigation was ongoing.

"We're not making any assumptions by that. We're going to keep an open mind and an open investigation," Army Secretary John McHugh said Thursday in Washington, explaining that "possible extremist involvement is still being looked at very, very carefully."

Three of the wounded in Wednesday's shooting remained in serious condition at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in nearby Temple on Friday. One other person was in good condition. Hospital officials had no information about patients being treated elsewhere, including at a base hospital. But because Scott & White is the area's only trauma center, the patients with the most serious injuries were probably taken there.

Investigators searched Lopez's home on Thursday and questioned his wife, who declined to comment in Spanish when reached by phone by The Associated Press.

Lopez walked into a base building around 4 p.m. Wednesday and began firing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He then got into a vehicle and continued shooting before entering another building on the Army post. He eventually was confronted by military police in a parking lot, Milley said.

As he came within 20 feet of a police officer, the gunman put his hands up but then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. The officer drew her own weapon, and the suspect put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger a final time, Milley said.

The base's commander praised the actions of the female police officer but declined to release her name. Milley also said authorities were first alerted to the rampage when two soldiers who had been shot managed to dial 911, and that a base chaplain shielded soldiers with his own body before smashing window glass to allow them to flee the area.

Lopez bought the weapon he used in the attack at Guns Galore in Killeen — the same store, just off the base, where Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan purchased an FN 5-7 tactical pistol that he used it to kill 13 people and wound more than 30 others in a November 2009 shooting on the base.

After that shooting, which marked the deadliest attack on a domestic military installation in U.S. history, the military tightened base security nationwide.

Lopez grew up in Guayanilla, a town of fewer than 10,000 people on the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, with a mother who was a nurse at a public clinic and a father who did maintenance for an electric utility company.

Glidden Lopez Torres, who said he was a friend speaking for the family, said Lopez's mother died of a heart attack in November.

The soldier was upset that he was granted only a 24-hour leave to attend her funeral, which was delayed for nearly a week so he could be there, the spokesman said. The leave was then extended to two days.

Lopez joined the island's National Guard in 1999, and he served on a yearlong peacekeeping mission in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in the mid-2000s. He enlisted with the Army in 2008, and arrived at Fort Hood in February from Fort Bliss, a Texas post near the Mexico border.

He saw a psychiatrist last month and showed no "sign of any likely violence either to himself or others," McHugh said.

Suzie Miller, a 71-year-old retired property manager who lived in the same Killeen apartment complex as Lopez, said few people knew him and his wife well because they had just moved in a few weeks ago.

"I'd see him in his uniform heading out to the car every morning," Miller said. "He was friendly to me and a lot of us around here."

___

Associated Press writers Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston; Christopher Sherman in McAllen; Robert Burns, Eric Tucker and Alicia Caldwell in Washington; and Dánica Coto in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

Police ID Victims, Seek Shooter

Friday, 04 April 2014 08:03 Published in Local News
ST. LOUIS (AP) - St. Louis police have identified two people killed in a shooting on the city's north side.
 
The shooting happened Wednesday afternoon, near Langston Middle School. The victims are identified as 35-year-old Michael Hennings and 27-year-old Ashley Townsend. Both were shot while inside a parked car and were pronounced dead at the scene.
 
Witnesses told police that the shooter gout out of a car and opened fire. Police are looking for the gunman.

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