U.S. adds 192,000 new jobs in February; unemployment rate dips to 8.9 percent

Employers in February hired at the fastest pace in almost a year and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent, a nearly two-year low. (March 4)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 12:00 AM

The missing piece of the U.S. economic recovery - job creation - is finally falling into place.

Employers added 192,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department said Friday, and the unemployment rate edged down to 8.9 percent from 9 percent, marking the third straight month of decline.

The jobs report was the most promising since the recession began more than three years ago and the most solid evidence yet that the recovery is gaining momentum.

While the job numbers received a boost from people returning to work after being marooned at home during the January snowstorms, economists and executives see the new data as confirmation of an underlying trend that had been visible anecdotally and in various other surveys: Private employers are gaining confidence and beginning to hire.

"I'm glad to finally see a labor report that is more reflective of what we've been seeing in the job market," said Tig Gilliam, chief executive of the employment services firm Adecco North America. "The economic recovery is finally on track."

The Obama administration cited the report as evidence that its policies, including the recently enacted payroll tax holiday and business investment tax break, are helping the nation claw out of its deep recession. "This is a very solid report," Austan Goolsbee, the president's chief economist, said in an interview. "You don't want to conclude too much from any given month, but this does appear to be the culmination of what has been a trend."

Republican leaders said it was the extension of the George W. Bush administration's tax cuts that set the stage for progress. Republicans had demanded that the cuts be extended for all taxpayers, not just those earning less than $250,000 as President Obama preferred.

"The improvement seen in this report is a credit to the hard work of the American people and their success in stopping the tax hikes that were due to hit our economy on January 1," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "Removing the uncertainty caused by those looming tax hikes provided much-needed relief for private-sector job creators in America."

Despite the strong jobs report, the U.S. stock market declined on the day, partly because of investor anxiety over higher oil prices, a product of the turbulence in the Middle East. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index closed down 0.7 percent, while the price of oil rose 2.5 percent. Political turmoil in the Arab world is one of the main factors that could still reverse the economic recovery reflected in the employment report.

The unemployment rate has now declined nearly a full percentage point since November, the steepest drop over a three-month span since 1983.

Many analysts had viewed the rapid decline in the unemployment rate in December and January as too good to be true, expecting the February number to inch back up to 9.1 percent.

But the improved data come with caveats - and not just that the job gains perhaps partly reflected Americans' return to work as the January ice melted.

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