Employers in the United States added a robust 379,000 jobs last month, the most since October and a sign that the US economy is strengthening as confirmed viral cases drop, consumers spend more, and states and cities ease business restrictions.
The February gain marked a sharp pickup from the 166,000 jobs that were added in January and the loss of 306,000 in December. Yet it represents just a fraction of the roughly 9.6 million jobs that the economy needs to regain to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The pickup in hiring lowered the unemployment rate from 6.3 percent to 6.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report. That is down dramatically from the 14.8-percent jobless rate of April of last year, just after the virus erupted in the United States. But it’s well above the pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 3.5 percent.
Stock prices surged on the news of solid job growth, a day after Wall Street suffered deep losses on fears that inflation and interest rates could soon be headed higher.
One year after the pandemic triggered a violent recession, economists are increasingly optimistic that hiring will accelerate in the coming months as Americans seize the opportunity to once again travel, shop, attend sporting events and visit movie theaters and restaurants. Households as a whole have accumulated a huge pile of savings after having slashed spending on those services. Much of that money is expected to be spent once most people feel comfortable about going out.
Friday’s report showed that the nation’s job growth is still being driven by a steady recovery of bars, restaurants and other leisure and hospitality establishments. Bars and restaurants, in particular, snapped back last month, adding 286,000 jobs as business restrictions eased in California and other states. That trend will likely continue as Texas this week joined some other states in announcing that it would fully reopen its economy with no restrictions.
Also hiring last month were retailers, which added 41,000 jobs, health care companies with 46,000 and manufacturers with 21,000. On the other hand, construction companies shed 61,000 jobs, likely in part because of the severe storms and power outages in Texas.
Friday’s strong jobs report, by suggesting that the economy is on the mend, could complicate President Joe Biden’s push for his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, which is being considered by the Senate after winning approval in the House. The Biden package would provide, among other things, $1,400 checks to most adults, an additional $400 in weekly unemployment aid and another round of aid to small businesses.