The U.S. added jobs last month at the fastest pace since the big run-up to the Census a year ago. This time, however, the new jobs came from the private sector, which created 222,000 jobs in February.
Continuing cuts in employment by government brought the overall number of jobs added during the month to 192,000. At the same time, the unemployment rate dipped slightly and is now at 8.9 percent.
Economists had been predicting strong growth, and the numbers released this morning by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics were right in line with — or above — the consensus estimates. A Bloomberg survey put the average estimate for private job growth at 200,000.
Reuters quoted Brian Levitt, an economist at OppenheimerFunds in New York, saying, “We have moved into the expansion phase of the economic cycle and the economy is self-sustaining.”
Expectations for a robust report were bolstered this week when ADP projected private job growth of 217,000 new jobs in February. Thursday, a 20,000 drop in initial unemployment claims brought the filings to 368,000 for the last week of the month, the lowest number since May 2008. That report helped fuel a Wall Street rally Thursday that sent the Dow up 191 points.
The drop in the unemployment rate, though only one-tenth of a point, was a surprise. Economists had been expecting it to either hold steady or possibly tick up from January’s 9.0 percent.
Particularly significant in the government jobs numbers was the strength shown in most sectors. The service sector created 152,000 jobs with the growth strongest in transportation and warehousing (+22,000), employment services, including temp, (+28,600), health (+36,200), and leisure and hospitality, particularly in food service (+21,000).
The construction industry, which was hit hard by the recession, added 33,000 jobs. It lead the goods-producing sector, to an overall increase of 70,000 jobs. Manufacturing added 33,000.
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The BLS also adjusted upward its numbers for December and January. December was revised from 121,000 new jobs to 52,000, and January went from 36,000 to 63,000 additional jobs.
Amidst the positive news in the BLS report were the still sobering counts of Americans without jobs or working part-time because they can’t find other work. There are still 13.7 million people officially listed as unemployed; 6 million of them have been out of work for more than six months.
To those numbers add the 2.7 million people who are considered “marginally attached to the labor force.” They are out of work, but not officially counted in the unemployment numbers because they didn’t search for work during the government’s survey period.
Another 8.3 million are underemployed at part time jobs. In February of 2010 that number was 9.3 million.