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Economy Adds 236,000 Jobs; Unemployment Rate Drops to 7.7%

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The labor market—and the economy overall—is improving, albeit gradually, with employers adding 236,000 jobs in February. That gain brought the unemployment rate down a few ticks from 7.9 percent to 7.7, its lowest point in four years.

The economy is still fragile, though. Twelve million Americans who want a job still cannot find one. A broader measure of the unemployment rate, which would include those in part-time work who are seeking full-time positions, stands at 14.3 percent, down from 14.4 the month before.

But generally things do seem to be getting better. The main area slowing growth at this point is government on the state and local levels, which shed 10,000 positions in February. On the private side, employers added 246,000 jobs, including 14,000 in manufacturing. This brought the four-month average up to 209,000 a month, a clear rise from the year before. Average earnings went up 4 cents, to $23.82 per hour, and average hours worked per week rose from 34.4. to 34.5.

Other positive signs for the economy include the housing market picking up steam, consumer confidence rising and the recent gains in the stock market. This month’s jobs numbers also exceeded expectations. Bloomberg surveyed 90 economists, and their average projection was 165,000. Of course, February’s numbers will later be revised upward or downward as more information comes in, but the trends over the past year-plus seem to be pointing in a positive direction.

[WSJ, Bloomberg]

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