The unemployment rate in the Washington area held steady at 4.9 percent in February, according to Labor Department data released Wednesday.

The region also saw a decrease in February in its ranks of unemployed people and an increase in the number of people looking for work, both signs of positive momentum in the local economy.

These figures hold more cause for optimism about the local job market than did a report from the Labor Department two weeks ago that showed meager job growth in the region for the one-year period ending in February. During that period, the Washington area added just 4,800 positions, its weakest job gain since the recession.

The steepest job losses were in the professional services category, which shed 15,100 jobs. Analysts and economists say the softness in this sector is likely connected to the uncertainty government contractors faced in the wake of the automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration.

The greatest source of job growth was the education and health services industry, which added 9,200 positions. The hospitality sector added 6,900 jobs, while the retail sector added 6,800.

The local unemployment rate compares favorably to the national one, which was 6.7 percent in February and remained unchanged in March.

Unemployment rates fell in 338 metropolitan areas, rose in 25, and held steady in nine. The nation’s highest jobless rate, 22.9 percent, registered in Yuma, Ariz. The lowest rate, 2.8 percent, was in the southern Louisiana jurisdiction that is home to small cities including Houma, Bayou Cane and Thibodaux.