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Fed says economic recovery on firmer footing

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve expressed more confidence in the U.S. economy even as Japan's nuclear crisis raised worries around the globe.

The Fed said the economic recovery is on "firmer footing" and the jobs market is "improving gradually," in a statement released after its meeting Tuesday.

That's a more upbeat tone from its previous meeting on Jan. 26. After that meeting, Fed policymakers said the rate of economic activity was "insufficient" to bring about "significant improvement" in the job market.

The Fed on Tuesday, in a unanimous decision, said it was maintaining the pace of its $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase program to help the economy grow more strongly and to lower unemployment, which now stands at 8.9 percent.

The Fed made no mention of Japan's crisis, which caused stocks to plunge earlier in the day. But the Fed's stimulative policy would help the U.S. economy withstand widening economic risks from home and abroad.

A more positive outlook from the Fed helped Wall Street recover some of its losses from earlier in the day. The Dow Jones industrial average was down only 132 points in late-afternoon trading after falling by as much as 297 points in morning trading.