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Associated Press Service businesses lead market growth

HELENA (AP) - Job growth in Montana remained above 3 percent for the third consecutive month in March, but that also marked the fourth straight month that Montanans' wage increases failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, the state Labor and Industry Department reported Friday.

The state had 11,400 more nonfarm jobs last month than the same time a year ago. That 3.1 percent annual growth came on the heels of a 3.3 percent increase in February and a 3.2 percent rise in January.

The department noted the current trend in job growth is above the 30-year annual average of 2.3 percent.

The large number of service businesses continued to lead the market growth, accounting for 6,000 of the new jobs. But the federal government added 1,900 jobs, a 16.2 percent increase due mostly to the hiring of 1,800 temporary census workers.

Even the mining industry, which has been stagnant or lost jobs each month over the past year or so, experienced job growth with an increase of 100.

The continued job growth overall did little to help Montanans' pay. The average weekly earnings last month increased 1.5 percent to $371.42 for private, nonfarm and nonsupervisory workers, but that was less than half the 3.7 percent growth in inflation over the past year, the department said.

The number of Montanans without jobs dropped by 1,700 in the past year, the agency said. That translates into a 5.7 percent unemployment rate and 27,100 people out of work, compared with a 6.3 percent rate a year earlier.

The highest county unemployment rates in March were Lincoln, 16.7 percent; Glacier, 16.5 percent; Big Horn, 11.8 percent; Roosevelt, 11.1 percent; and Mineral and Musselshell, 10.8 percent each.

The lowest jobless rates for counties were Carter and Wibaux, 2.5 percent; Gallatin, 2.7 percent; Sweet Grass, 2.9 percent; Liberty, 3.1 percent; and Missoula, 3.9 percent.

Among the state's most-populous counties, Lincoln had the highest unemployment rate at 16.7 percent, followed by Fergus, 8.1 percent; Flathead, 7.8 percent; Park, 7.2 percent; Lake, 6.6 percent; Cascade, 5.8 percent; Ravalli, 5.6 percent; Silver Bow, 5.5 percent; Lewis and Clark, 4.8 percent; Hill, 4.6 percent; Yellowstone, 4.3 percent; Missoula, 3.9 percent; and Gallatin, 2.7 percent.

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