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.