Hiring is up, too. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month since November. That's nearly double the average from last spring. And economists expect similar job gains in March, in part because of the steady decline in layoffs.

The economy has been showing other signs of strength. U.S. home prices rose 8.1 percent in January, the fastest annual rate since the peak of the housing boom in the summer of 2006. And demand for longer-lasting factory goods jumped 5.7 percent in February, most in five months.

Still, the job market and the economy have a long way to go back to full health. The United States has 3 million fewer jobs than it did when the Great Recession began in December 2007. And home prices are down 29 percent from their peak at the height of the housing bubble in August 2006.

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