Nearly 300K New Jobs In February; Unemployment Dips To 5.5 Percent

Job applicant Rafael Ferrer, 49, left, shakes hands with a representative of the Hilton Bentley Miami Beach hotel during a job fair at the Hospitality Institute, in January. (AP)
Job applicant Rafael Ferrer, 49, left, shakes hands with a representative of the Hilton Bentley Miami Beach hotel during a job fair at the Hospitality Institute, in January. (AP)

The U.S. economy added 295,000 jobs in the February, according to the Labor Department's monthly survey and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent. The latest strong data beat expectations and follows on the heels of a robust jump for the previous month — a sign that the economy is finally picking up steam.

Expectations among economists had been for the economy to add another 240,000 jobs from last month and for the unemployment rate to notch back down to 5.6 percent, where it stood for December. The slight increase in the rate last month was attributed to strong growth in the labor force.

The average workweek for nonfarm payrolls was 34.6 hours, a figure that has held steady for five months. The average hourly wage rose 3 cents to $24.78.

As NPR's John Ydstie reported this morning ahead of the release by the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report for January "was stellar on almost every count. It revealed a monthly average for job growth of 336,000 over the previous 3 months, and it showed strong wage gains after years of disappointing growth."

The Labor Department more jobs were added in food services and drinking places, professional and business services, construction, health care, and in transportation and warehousing.

The latest report comes as the Federal Reserve has signaled that it is likely to raise interest rates, possibly as soon as June, based on the generally more robust economy and concerns about inflation pressures.

Today's reports shows 51,000 new jobs in February in professional and business services and 29,000 new jobs in construction. Transportation and warehousing were up 19,000 jobs and the retail sector gained 32,000. Over the past 12 months. Both construction and retail have gained about 320,000 jobs over the past year.

Reuters reports from London: "The dollar hit an 11-year high against major currencies on Friday as investors bet the monthly U.S. jobs report would increase the chances of rate hikes, even as the European Central Bank embarks on a 1 trillion euro bond-buying campaign."

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