US job growth accelerates, with 175,000 added to workforce

Despite encouraging monthly employment figures, joblessness rate rises slightly, to 6.7 percent

A job seeker fills out a McDonald’s job application at a fair for concession employment opportunities at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago in January 2014.
Tim Boyle/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Hiring in the U.S picked up in February, with 175,000 jobs added to the workforce, the Labor Department said Friday — a development that could encourage the Federal Reserve to pull back on its monetary stimulus.

"Despite a major snowstorm that hit the East Coast during the reference week for the labor market surveys, the rate of job growth picked up from the December and January pace," the White House Council of Economic Advisers said in a statement, noting that February was the 48th straight month of private-sector job growth.

Following January's surprisingly weak increase of 113,000 jobs and December's tepid increase of just 75,000, investors on Wall Street cheered this month's report, with stock futures shooting up on the news. Economists now hope job growth will return to pre-December levels, when the U.S. economy was consistently adding more then 200,000 jobs each month.

"This bodes well for the economy, since there were massive headwinds," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive at Sarhan Capital in New York. "This report plays perfectly into the Fed's script of tapering."

Job growth in the professional and business services industries was particularly pronounced, with those sectors adding 79,000 jobs in February.

Average hourly earnings rose 9 cents in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics said.

The figures were a welcome surprise after recent economic reports showed that harsh weather had closed factories, lowered auto sales and caused existing-home sales to plummet.

"Over the past three months, payrolls growth has averaged 130,000, which is pretty respectable given the widespread weather disruptions," University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers said in a tweet.

Some recent reports hint that the economy will accelerate as the weather warms. The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits fell last week and is at about the same level as before the 2008 recession.

But economists warned not to read too much into this month's report.

"It's an improving but not a booming labor market," Dean Baker, an economist and a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told Al Jazeera. "It's going in the right direction, but it's nothing to celebrate."

"There were a number of pieces in this report that were a bit anomalous," he said. "Bookkeeping added 15,000 jobs, and more than half the jobs added were in professional or business services. That could happen again, but you really don't expect it."

The February jobs increase was higher than most analysts projected. The median estimate of economists polled by financial data firm Bloomberg L.P. had 150,000 workers being hired to nonfarm payrolls in February. But after a release of estimates by payroll-processing firm ADP and Institute for Supply Management, the median estimate of those economists dropped to 136,000.

Despite the encouraging monthly figures, the unemployment rate ticked up, to 6.7 percent.

The report indicated that long-term unemployment — being out of work for more than 27 weeks — remains endemic in the U.S. People who can't find full-time work have been unemployed for an average of 260 days, and the number of long-term unemployed rose by 203,000, to 3.8 million.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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