Employers added robust 313,000 jobs in February as the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.1%


The economy added 313,000 jobs in February, crushing expectations, while the unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent, according to a Labor Department report Friday that could help quell inflation fears.
Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting nonfarm payroll growth of 200,000 and the unemployment rate to decline one-tenth of a percent to 4 percent. An increase in the labor force participation rate helped keep the headline unemployment number steady, as the number of those counted as not in the workforce tumbled by 653,000 to just over 95 million.
A separate measure that takes into account those out of the workforce and the underemployed — sometimes referred to as the "real" unemployment rate — held steady at 8.2 percent.
Construction jobs led the way, with 61,000 new positions, followed by retail and professional and business services (50,000 apiece), manufacturing (31,000) and financial activities (28,000). Health care added 19,000 while mining saw 9,000 new jobs.
Investors were watching the report closely not only for clues about job growth but also whether wage pressures were continuing to build. Wage growth came in less than expected, rising 0.1 percent for the month and 2.6 percent on an annualized basis.
The average work week rose by 0.1 hours to 34.5 hours.
In addition to the big job growth, previous months' counts were revised substantially higher. December went from 160,000 to 175,000 while January saw a boost from the initially reported 200,000 to 239,000. That brings the three-month average to 242,000.
Stocks sold off aggressively a month ago after January's payrolls report showed average hourly earnings rose 2.8 percent annually, the biggest gain since June 2009.
Multiple Federal Reserve officials have said recently they see the jobs market at or even beyond full employment. The unemployment rate was last this low in December 2000. However, sustained wage growth has been absent, keeping the Fed on a pace of consistent but gradual rate hikes.

 U.S. job growth surged in February, recording its biggest increase in more than 1-1/2 years, but a slowdown in wage gains pointed to a gradual increase in inflation this year.

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the assembly line replace the back covers of 32-inch television sets at Element Electronics in Winnsboro, South Carolina, U.S., May 29, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Photo
Nonfarm payrolls jumped by 313,000 jobs last month, boosted by the largest gain in construction jobs since 2007, the Labor Department said on Friday. The increase in payrolls last month was the biggest since July 2016 and was well above the roughly 100,000 jobs per month the economy needs to create to keep up with growth in the working-age population.
Average hourly earnings edged up four cents, or 0.1 percent, to $26.75 in February, a slowdown from the 0.3 percent rise in January. That lowered the year-on-year increase in average hourly earnings to 2.6 percent from 2.8 percent in January.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent in February as more people entered the labor force in a sign of confidence in the jobs market. The average workweek rebounded to 34.5 hours after declining to 34.4 hours in January.
With Federal Reserve officials considering the labor market to be near or a little beyond full employment, the moderation in wage growth last month will probably do little to change expectations that the U.S. central bank will raise interest rates at its March 20-21 policy meeting.
Slow wage growth, however, could temper expectations that the Fed will change its rate forecast to four hikes this year from three. There is optimism that tightening labor market conditions will spur faster wage growth this year and pull inflation toward the Fed’s 2 percent target.
Speculation that the central bank would upgrade its interest rate projections was stoked by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell when he told lawmakers last week that “my personal outlook for the economy has strengthened since December.”
While Powell said there was no evidence of the economy overheating, he added “the thing we don’t want to have happen is to get behind the curve.”

BROAD EMPLOYMENT GAINS

Some companies like Starbucks Corp SBUX.O and FedEx Corp FDX.N have said they would use some of their windfall from a $1.5 trillion income tax cut package to boost workers’ salaries. Walmart WMT.N announced an increase in entry-level wages for hourly employees at its U.S. stores effective in February.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls rising by 200,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate falling to 4.0 percent. Average hourly earnings had been expected to increase 0.2 percent in February.
The employment report suggested the economy remained strong despite weak consumer spending, home sales, industrial production and a wider trade deficit in January that prompted economists to lower their growth estimates for the first quarter. Gross domestic product estimates for the January-March quarter are around a 2 percent annualized rate. The economy grew at a 2.5 percent pace in the fourth quarter.
Economists expect the unemployment rate to fall to 3.5 percent this year. The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, rose to 63.0 percent in February from 62.7 percent in January.
Employment gains were broad in February. Construction employment rose by 61,000 jobs, the most since March 2007. Hiring at construction sites was likely boosted by unseasonably mild temperatures in February.
Manufacturing payrolls increased by 31,000 jobs. The sector is being supported by strong domestic and international demand as well as by a weaker dollar. Retail payrolls jumped by 50,300 and the government added 26,000 jobs.
There were also increases in payrolls for professional and business services, leisure and hospitality as well as healthcare and social assistance.
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