U.S. manufacturing activity hits 37-year high

It's the clearest sign yet that a much-anticipated economic boom is in the making.

U.S. manufacturing activity soared to its highest level in more than 37 years in March, according to data released Thursday by the Institute for Supply Management. The ISM index jumped to 64.7 last month - that's a high not seen since December 1983.

March's upswing was led by a surge in new orders - hinting at the pent-up demand for manufactured goods.

Busy factories usually mean more workers are needed. The report's employment component shot up to its highest reading in three years.

The labor market, as a whole, appears to be on the mend. A separate report released Thursday showed corporate job cut announcements fell in March to their lowest in more than 2-1/2 years, according to a monthly survey conducted by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

And in an official snapshot from the Labor Department, also out Thursday, new applications for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, though still hovering around their lowest point since the health crisis pushed millions of Americans out of work last year.

Despite the progress being made on the hiring front, more than 18 million people received unemployment assistance through the middle of March.

Economists, however, expect to see that number to continue to get smaller as the economic outlook improves. The economy is poised to take off this year, powered by President Biden's massive $1.9 trillion economic relief package and the further reopening of local economies as more Americans get vaccinated.

Activity could be further boosted if Biden is able to get through his $2 trillion infrastructure plan unveiled this week.

The most important economic data point of the month comes Friday when the government releases official hiring and unemployment data for March.