Jobs Added In Feb., But Unemployment Holds Steady

The jobs report for February came in a bit stronger than expected. The Labor Department said jobs outside of agriculture grew by 227,000 last month. The unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block. The government's monthly jobs reports has brought some welcome news. Employers continued the positive trend of the past few months by adding 227,000 jobs in February. Still, the unemployment rate did not fall. It remains at 8.3 percent. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli with more about the numbers.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: There was job growth across the board in February in just about every sector of the economy, including education, manufacturing and health care. And job growth didn't just pick up last month. The Labor Department said payrolls increased more than first estimated in December and January, too. In the past three months alone, the economy has added nearly three-quarters of a million jobs. Cary Leahey is senior economist at Decision Economics.

CARY LEAHEY: The economy was feared to be dipping into a recession last summer and lo and behold, the economic numbers generally improved. Things got perkier. And in particular, the U.S. labor market is starting to heat up.

ZARROLI: Today's report confirms what many economists have been saying for months, though the jobless rate is still uncomfortably high, there are unmistakable signs that the worst of the downturn is behind us. Although a gain of 227,000 jobs in a single month is not huge, it is enough, over time, to bring down the unemployment rate, albeit at a slow pace. Alan Krueger is chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

ALAN KRUEGER: Today's report, combined with the past six months' report, as well as other data coming in, like unemployment insurance claims, show an economy on the mend. We are digging our way out of the deep hole that the president inherited when he took office.

ZARROLI: Despite the increase in payrolls, the overall U.S. unemployment rate stayed where it was at 8.3 percent. That was because of a sudden increase of nearly a half million people in the U.S. workforce. Some economists said that was something of a statistical fluke, but Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services, sees it as a positive sign.

GUS FAUCHER: Although there was a big jump in the number of jobs, we actually saw a lot of people coming back into the labor force, people who'd given up and stopped looking for work and then started to look for work again.

ZARROLI: Faucher says the numbers today point to persistent, but moderate economic growth over the next two years. Of course, the U.S. economy appeared to be on the mend last year, too, only to get derailed by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the European debt crisis. Cary Leahey says something similar could happen this year. The rise in gasoline prices, in particular, is a worrisome sign. But Leahey says, the U.S. economy is strong enough to withstand pressures in a way it wasn't last year.

LEAHEY: If you are generating these kinds of jobs and it improves people's confidence about the economy, then you have a greater case for a self-reinforcing recovery where better jobs lead to better spending and better spending leads to better jobs.

ZARROLI: And, Leahey says, this kind of recovery can be a powerful force for growth, generating optimism that feeds on itself. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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