The U.S. created 227,000 new jobs in February, exceeding what economists predicted and adding to the optimism that the economy is finally on the mend. National unemployment, as expected, held steady at 8.3 percent.
Surveys conducted before the numbers were released this morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showed economists expected somewhere between about 210,000 and 220,000 new jobs last month. Few individual economists expected as strong a showing as this for a month of 29 days.
It was the third consecutive month in which jobs grew by more than 200,000. In addition to the February numbers, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, adjusted up the numbers for January and December by 61,000.
“The labor market has found its legs in the last few months,” said Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York. She told MarketWatch, “it looks like there’s enough of a broad base that the momentum can be sustained.”
More people now looking for work
With the improving jobs picture over the last few months, more people are looking for work, one reason the unemployment rate was unchanged. It’s also helps explain why the total number of unemployed ticked up slightly during the month. Overall, there were 12.8 million workers officially counted as unemployed. Another almost 11 million are working part time because they can’t find other jobs or are seeking work, but not included in the official count.
However, The Monster Economic Index, a measure of the number of jobs being advertised online, jumped by 10 points. And earlier this week, The Conference Board’s own job counts showed an increase of almost 40,000 online job ads.
The job growth, according to the Labor Department report, is nearly across the board. The private sector created 233,000 jobs (which was offset by 6,000 job losses in government). Only in construction, down 13,000 jobs, and retail, down 7,400, were there significant private sector losses.
Health care growing rapidly
Some of the biggest gains came in manufacturing, leisure, professional services and healthcare, which is the one sector that consistently has grown throughout the recession. Health care industry employers created 61,100 new jobs last month.
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That was matched by the continued hiring of temporary and other workers in the employment services sector. Here, employers hesitant about adding permanent workers, have been hiring ever more temps to handle growing workloads. In February, 45,200 new temporaries were added to payrolls.
Leisure and hospitality jobs grew by 44,000, most of that in the restaurant industry. Manufacturing added 31,000 new positions, with slightly more than a third of the workers hired for metal fabrication jobs.
Among the biggest losers were retail jobs in department stores. Some 25,000 jobs were cut there, not unexpectedly however, as stores completed inventory. That number was counterbalanced by a nearly identical growth in retail jobs in January.
Other signs of strength was an increase in the manufacturing workweek by .1 hour to 41 hours and an increase of 3 cents per hour in the average hourly wage. It now stands at $23.31.