Last month, the US labor market strengthened as more workers jumped back in and the pandemic’s grip loosened.

Employers added 431,000 jobs, and hiring in January and February was stronger than reported. The report marked the 11th straight month of job gains above 400,000, the longest such stretch of growth. The unemployment rate fell to 3.6% in March, quickly approaching the 2020 prepandemic rate of 3.5%. Low joblessness is helping boost wages, but not enough to keep up with high inflation.

Covid-19 cases have declined since January, helping boost the demand for labor as consumers are traveling, dining out, and looking to enjoy human interaction again. As the pandemic continues to ease, more people are encourage to seek jobs. Nearly 900,000 people were prevented from looking for a job due tot he pandemic in March, down from 1.2 million in February.

Labor-force participation is still lower than the prepandemic levels, but is continuously rising. The participation rate increased from 62.3% in February to 62.4% in March, up from 60.2% in April of 2020.

More than 300,000 women streamed into the labor force in March. There are still fewer women ages 16 and up in the labor force than before the pandemic. Meanwhile, male levels have fully recovered. Many retirees are coming back as well. In February, the share of retired workers entering the workforce hit 3% of total retirees.

There are several factors pulling individuals into the workforce. For one, household savings are declining, which pressures individuals to rejoin the labor force and collect a steady paycheck. This is especially applicable as we see prices rise for gasoline, groceries, and housing.

The economy has about 1.6 million fewer jobs than in February 2020. Payrolls in some industries were hit hard by the pandemic, such as leisure and hospitality, remain below prepandemic levels. Other industries have recovered fully, such as retail. The industries hit harder by the pandemic are steadily rising to their prepandemic rates as the pandemic eases its grip.