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US economy's latest output: better jobs

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The new jobs still include plenty at the low end: An analysis by Merrill Lynch finds that some 40 percent of the net gain in March came in two areas known for low pay: retail services and leisure/hospitality, which includes restaurants.

But this is just part of a broader tapestry. Management and professional occupations are employing 1.2 million more people this month than a year ago - or about 1 in 3 new jobs in America. This is the highest-paying of five broad categories tracked by the Labor Department. Not all of them are CEOs or engineers, but the median paycheck for full-time workers in this category is $937 a week, far above the US median of $651.

The construction industry continues to hammer out more than its share of new jobs. It accounts for about 6.4 percent of US jobs, but has provided 14.4 percent of the past year's job growth. The quality of construction jobs is mixed - often offering higher hourly pay than the US median but with lower benefits.

Even the manufacturing sector, which has long offered blue-collar workers a measure of middle-class prosperity, appears to be stabilizing after a period of heavy job losses. Despite downsizing in the automotive industry, 175,000 more people are employed in production occupations today than a year ago.

"As this recovery gets under way, professional services have begun adding jobs fairly broadly," says Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington.

EPI tracks the weighting of higher- versus lower-paying jobs that are being added to the economy. For much of the current expansion, which began at the end of 2001, that indicator has been negative.

In the past year, however, it has turned positive, meaning that the new jobs in the economy are the kind that tend to pull average wages up, not down.

Beyond professional services, one example may be construction. The housing market is cooling, but commercial building is heating up.

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