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Unemployment Drops To 8.9%: 192,000 New Jobs, With Gains in Manufacturing and Construction

Job gains in both the goods and services sectors nudged the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent in February, and lengthened the string of net job gains to five months. New jobs numbered 192,000. Government employment fell by 30,000, all at the state and local level.

The job gains are a return to the burst of growth in spring a year ago, but are more substantial since last year's figures were padded with temporary Census Bureau positions.

Job creation in December and January were both revised higher, by about 30,000 for each month. Thus since November, monthly job gains have averaged 134,000. Click to enlarge the BLS graph:

Economists were looking for a gain of about 200,000 jobs. Some of the increase was likely borrowed from January, when poor weather kept everyone home for a while, and probably delayed the reporting process as well.

Forecasters also were expecting a small rise in the unemployment rate.

Importantly, while improvements in the unemployment rate in some recent months have come from quirky statistics, February showed genuine growth in the labor force and jobs. The number of people unemployed, however, stayed at 13.7 million.

The broadest measure of un- and under-employment, called U-6, fell to 15.9 percent from 16.1 percent in January, and is down from 17.0 percent in November.

The gains confirm plenty of other economic signs already in place. New jobless claims fell in the last week of February, as noted by my MoneyWatch colleague Mark Thoma. Much improved, he says:

The [four-week] average is now 388,500, a decrease from last week's figure. This puts claims into the range where jobs are being created rather than lost (the cutoff is roughly 400,000).
Retail sales have established a stronger trend, growing over four percent in both January and February, reports the Johnson Redbook Same-store Sales Index. Car sales have improved too, although of course housing is still nowhere to be found.

A few highlights by industry: construction and manufacturing each rose by 33,000 for the month. Services employment was up 152,000, with strength in transportation and employment services. About 15,000 new jobs came up at temporary help companies.

The economy nevertheless still has plenty of ground to make up, says Bloomberg:

The projected increase in the jobless rate would mean it has been 9 percent or higher for 22 consecutive months, the longest stretch at such elevated levels since monthly records began in 1948. At the same time, the rate has dropped 0.8 percentage point over the past two months, the biggest decrease in such a short period since 1958.
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