Employers added 290,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, far more than analysts had anticipated. In addition, 121,000 more jobs were created in February and March than previously estimated.
Private-sector job growth in April was much stronger than expected, with government hiring for the decennial U.S. census a secondary factor.
Officials have kept the economy on life support with record low interest rates and a $787 billion package of government spending and tax cuts, and the report eased fears the recovery could falter as the support fades.
The unemployment rate, however, rose to 9.9 percent as discouraged workers started to look for work again.
Stubbornly high unemployment has been a political sore spot for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats, even though the job market is showing increased vigor after its battering during the worst recession since the 1930s.
Private-sector employment increased 231,000, the largest gain since March 2006. Analysts had expected private payrolls to rise between 50,000 and 100,000. Like overall employment, private payrolls have now grown for four straight months.
Census hiring contributed 66,000 jobs in April.
More than 8 million jobs were lost during the recession and economists warn it will take years to regain them.
Last month, manufacturing payrolls saw their largest gain since 1998 and construction employment defied expectations of a fall. Service sector payrolls advanced for a fourth month, and temporary help hiring also rose.
Also encouraging, the length of the average workweek rose to 34.1 hours from 34 hours in March.
The upbeat report was tempered by the rise in the number of people who had been out of work for 27 weeks or more to 6.7 million. That represented a record 45.9 percent of the total 15.3 million unemployed in April.
In addition, a broad measure of unemployment that includes workers who want a job but have stopped looking and those working part time for economic reasons rose to 17.1 percent from 16.9 percent in March.