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Unemployment drops to 7.7 percent

The U.S. economy added 236,000 jobs and the nation’s unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

The government said employment increased in professional and business services, construction and health care. The number of unemployed people totaled 12 million, a figure that also edged lower during the month.

Although the jobless rate fell from 7.9 percent in January, it has shown little net movement since September, the government said. Nonetheless, the rate was at a four year-low and Reuters said that suggests the economy has enough momentum to withstand higher taxes and deep government spending cuts.

Although December and January's employment data were revised to show 15,000 fewer jobs added than previously reported, details of the report were solid, Reuters said, with construction adding the most jobs since March 2007 and increased hours for all workers.

A 2 percent payroll tax cut ended and tax rates went up for wealthy Americans on Jan. 1. In addition, $85 billion in federal budget cuts that could slice as much as 0.6 percentage points from growth this year started on March 1, but the pace of gains is still below the roughly 250,000 jobs a month over a sustained period that economists say is needed to significantly reduce unemployment.

February's report showed broad-based gains and construction was the star. The sector added 48,000 jobs and in January construction payrolls increased 25,000.

A decisive turnaround in the housing market and rebuilding on the East Coast after Hurrucane Sandy in late October is boosting jobs at construction sites.

Manufacturers stepped up hiring in February, although the pace was still well below early last year because of lackluster domestic demand and cooling growth overseas. Factory jobs increased by 14,000 last month after rising by 12,000 in January.

Retail employment increased by 23,700 jobs, rising for an eighth straight month, and defying a recent slowdown in sales. Health care and social assistance saw another month of solid job gains. The same was the case for leisure and hospitality.

Click here for the full Reuters report.

Click here for the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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