U.S. employers add 175,000 jobs in February
Brutal winter weather snarled traffic, canceled flights and cut power to homes and factories in February. Yet it didn't faze U.S. employers, who added 175,000 jobs, far more than in the two previous months.
Modest but steady job growth has become a hallmark of a nearly 5-year-old economic rebound that remains sluggish, yet strikingly resilient. The economy has been slowed by political gridlock, harsh weather and global crises. Those disruptions have hampered growth but haven't derailed it.
Though the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from a five-year low of 6.6 percent, it did so for an encouraging reason: More people grew optimistic about their job prospects and began seeking work. The unemployment rate rose because some didn't immediately find jobs.
Along with a sharp increase in wages last month, the jobs report indicates that some employers are confident that consumer spending will pick up in coming months.
Friday's report from the Labor Department suggested a long-hoped-for acceleration in growth and hiring still hasn't occurred. But that might not be all bad: Households have pared debt and avoided the excessive spending and borrowing that have undercut explosive economies in the past.
And moderate but consistent hiring still means more people have money to spend.
Total U.S. credit card debt is still 14 percent lower than before the Great Recession began in December 2007, according to the Federal Reserve.
"A modest expansion may very well last longer than one that bursts out with big increases in spending and debt," said David Berson, an economist at Nationwide Financial.
Some economists also suggested that having endured harsh weather, the economy may be poised to pick up in coming months.
"If not for poor weather conditions, job growth would have been stronger," said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"This suggests we should see solid gains . . . in coming months."
The figures were a welcome surprise after recent economic data showed that severe weather had closed factories, lowered auto sales and slowed home purchases.
The severe winter appeared to have less effect on hiring than most economists feared. Construction companies, which usually stop work in bad weather, added 15,000 jobs. Manufacturing gained 6,000 for a second straight month. Government added 13,000 jobs, the most in six months.
Daniel Alpert, managing partner at Westwood Capital, noted that roughly two-thirds of the job growth in January and February was in higher-paying industries. That's a reversal from all of last year, when about two-thirds of job growth was in lower-paying fields.
A category called professional and business services, which includes better-paying jobs such as engineers, accountants and architects, along with some lower-paying jobs such as temporary workers, added 79,000 jobs in February.
That was the most in a year.
Retailers, though, lost 4,100 jobs; transportation and warehousing firms lost 3,600.
Average hourly pay rose 9 cents in February to $24.31, the biggest gain since June. Hourly wages have risen 2.2 percent over the past 12 months, ahead of 1.6 percent inflation over that time. That could mean that employers are finally starting to boost pay after several years of stagnant wages.
Economists cautioned that further sustained increases would be needed to signify a broad pickup in pay. Some of the wage increase likely reflects the recent job gains in higher-paying fields.