February proved to be another strong month for job growth with employers adding an additional 235,000 workers to their payrolls, more than the 200,000 expected. Additionally, the original 246,000 positions reported in January were revised upward to 261,000.
The unemployment rate dipped slightly to 4.7% in February, down from 4.9 percent a year earlier and the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons was little changed at 5.7 million.Both the labor force participation rate (63%) and the employment-population ratio (60%) also showed little change for the month. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 1.8 million in February and accounted for 23.8 percent of the unemployed. Over the year, the number of long-term unemployed was down by 358,000.
Job gains occurred in construction (+58,000), professional and business services (+37,000), private educational services (+29,000), manufacturing (+28,000), health care (+27,000), and mining (+8,000) while retail trade employment edged down in February (-26,000), following a gain of 40,000 in the month prior. Employment in other major industries, including wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little to no change over the month.
In February, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 6 cents to $26.09, following a 5-cent increase in January. After years of stagnant wage growth, average hourly earnings have risen by 71 cents over the year.
With the unemployment rate at levels the Federal Reserve considers to be full employment and the blockbuster report on job gains, the path is clear for the Fed to raise its benchmark interest rates next week when they meet again.