The unemployment rate in Iowa this March dropped below four percent. Ann Wagner, a state labor market analyst, says even she was surprised by the 3.8 percent jobless figure. In February, Iowa’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent — so the month-to-month drop was just over half-a-percent. “The last time we had an unemployment rate this low, you have to go all the way back to April of 2002 when the rate was also 3.8 percent,” she says.

Wagner says the much-lower three-point-eight percent March unemployment rate was caused by a couple of factors, including a smaller labor force. “The labor force is always the sum of the employed and unemployed people, and for the month of March unemployment dropped by 10,000 over the month…so that in itself will give you a lower rate,” Wagner says. “Then, too, for the past couple of months we’ve had unusually strong job growth. (In February), we added over 8000 non-farm jobs. For the month of March, we added over 6000 and that’s very strong.”

If job growth continues at that pace, there’ll be a labor shortage in Iowa according to Wagner. About 1600 jobs were created in Iowa’s leisure and hospitality industry and about 1700 new jobs were added in Iowa’s construction sector in the month of March, but Wagner says a key part of the surging job picture is the “strong” resurgence of the manufacturing industry. “When we look at the growth over the year, we’ve added 5400 jobs in manufacturing and that was the industry that the 2001 recession really took down,” she says.

Just over 1.6 million people held jobs in Iowa in March, setting a new record. The state estimates that just under 63,000 Iowans were unemployed in March.