WASHINGTON (AP) — Employers hired in February at the fastest pace in almost a year, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9% — a nearly two-year low.
The economy added a net 192,000 jobs. Factories, professional and business services, education and health care were among the sectors that hired. Retailers, though, trimmed jobs. State and local governments, squeezed by budget gaps, slashed 30,000 jobs, the most since November. Federal government hiring was flat.
Private employers added 222,000 jobs last month, the most since April. That shows companies are feeling more confident about the economy and their own prospects. The job gains bolstered hopes that businesses will hire aggressively through the rest of the year and strengthen the economic recovery.
The unemployment rate is now at its lowest point since April 2009. It's been falling for three months, down from 9.8% in November, marking the sharpest three-month drop since 1983.
"These numbers can be sustained and built on," said Joel Naroff at Naroff Economic Advisors. "Businesses are finally taking some of those profits they are earning and putting them back into the work force."
The number of unemployed people dipped to 13.7 million, still nearly double the number before the recession began in December 2007.
When you include part-time workers who'd rather be working full time and people who have given up looking for work, the percentage of "underemployed" people dropped to 15.9% in February. That's the lowest figure in nearly two years.
The Labor Department report had little effect on investors, who had generally anticipated Friday's data. Many seemed more focused on the rise in oil prices. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 60 points in morning trading. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dipped to 3.52%, from 3.56% late Thursday. The yield is a widely used benchmark for mortgages and other loans.
President Barack Obama's chief economist, Austan Goolsbee, welcomed the positive news. But Goolsbee cautioned that it will take time to recoup the 7.5 million jobs wiped out by the 2007-2009 recession.
The pickup in hiring coincides with gathering strength in the broader economy.