The U.S. economy created 242,000 new jobs in February, exceeding economists’ expectations, but the average hourly wage and the number of hours that people worked declined.
The unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent and the number of unemployed people remained at 7.8 million. The U.S. Department of Labor said today that job gains occurred in health care and social assistance, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and private educational services.
“We’ve got a real strong job market going,” Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust, told the New York Times. “It does suggest that fears about a U.S. recession have been greatly overdone.”
The Times said the recovery from the Great Recession is in its seventh year, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent from 8.3 percent and the private sector has had 72 months of uninterrupted job gains, the longest streak on record.
Economists said the strong jobs report will give the Federal Reserve something to consider as it decides later this month whether another rate increase is needed. The central bank raised rates in December for the first time since June 2006.
“This number will certainly spice up the Fed’s discussion,” Tannenbaum said.
The government revised its December and January data to show that 30,000 more jobs were created during those months — up 9,000, to 271,000, for December and up 21,000, to 172,000, for January — than previously reported.
The government said average hourly earnings in February for all employees on private non-farm payrolls declined by 3 cents, to $25.35, after an increase of 12 cents in January. Average hourly earnings have risen by 2.2 percent this year.
The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls declined by two-tenths of an hour, to 34.4 hours, in February.
The number of long-term unemployed (people who have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer) was essentially unchanged at 2.2 million in February and has shown little movement since June, the government said. In February, these people accounted for 27.7 percent of the unemployed.
The employment-population ratio edged up to 59.8 percent during the month and the labor force participation rate edged up to 62.9 percent. The government said both measures have increased by half a percentage point since September.
The number of people employed part time for economic reasons (also referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was unchanged in February at 6 million and has shown little movement since November. These people, who would have preferred a full-time job, were working part time because their hours had been cut or because they were unable to find full-time work.
In February 1.8 million people were marginally attached to the labor force, down 356,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These people were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime during the previous 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work during the four weeks that preceded the survey.