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Unemployment drops to 5.5 percent

The U.S. economy added 295,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate edged down to 5.5 percent, the Department of Labor reported today.

The rate is now the lowest it has been since May 2008.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said job gains occurred in food services and drinking places, professional and business services, construction, health care, and transportation and warehousing.

Bloomberg said the jobs report underscores a lingering appetite among companies to boost head counts as increased purchasing power from cheaper fuel supports consumer spending.

The jobless rate reached Federal Reserve policymakers’ range for what they consider full employment, but Bloomberg said a missing link continues to be faster wage growth that will be needed to ensure that household purchases accelerate.

“These were solid job gains,” Brian Jones, a senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, told Bloomberg. “You’ve got a very strong economy.”

Bloomberg said February marked the 12th straight month that payrolls have increased by at least 200,000, the best run since a 19-month stretch that ended in March 1995. Payrolls rose 3.1 million in 2014, the most in 15 years.

The government revised its January jobs figure downward, saying that 239,000 jobs were created, compared with an initially released total of 257,000.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed, at 2.7 million in February, the government said. Those people accounted for 31.1 percent of the unemployed.

The civilian labor force participation rate, at 62.8 percent, changed little in February and the government said it has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 to 62.9 percent since last April.

The number of people who were employed part-time for economic reasons was little changed in February at 6.6 million. Those people, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

In February, 2.2 million people were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Those people were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks that preceded the government’s survey.

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