Unemployment ticked up to 6.7 percent last month despite a better-than-expected increase of 175,000 jobs that defied a spate of severe winter weather. the Labor Department reported Friday.
The number of jobs added by private employers was not far below the 189,000 average job gain per month in the last year, though economists were predicting a gain closer to 150,000. Moreover, the department said it found an additional 25,000 jobs added in December and January than it previously detected.
"The U.S. labor market left winter behind" and demonstrated that the economy is doing well despite the cloak of cold and ice thrown on this winter, said Harm Bandholz, economist at Unicredit Research.
"Severe winter weather looks to have less of a dampened effect on hiring by U.S. companies than anticipated," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. He said the Federal Reserve will be pleased at the economy's resilience despite one of the harshest winters on record.
"It provides reassuring evidence that the underlying trends in hiring and economic growth remain robust," he said.
The uptick in the unemployment rate from 6.6 percent in January reflected a surge of 264,000 workers re-entering the job market in the hunt for work, which was also an upbeat sign that prospects could be improving for many idled workers.
"All told, I'm mildly more optimistic about the recovery after this jobs report. Seems to suggest a continuing rather than stalling recovery," said Justin Wolfers, economics professor at the University of Michigan.
He noted that all of the job gains were full-time, with part-time jobs actually declining by 210,000 during the month, despite widespread predictions that the new health care law would prompt employers to pare back hours and hire only part-time workers.
Since the bad weather no doubt held back employment somewhat in the last three months, economists are expecting a sizable rebound in hiring in the spring months, with many predicting job gains well over 200,000 a month.
"I'm expecting a big payrolls bump in March," Mr. Wolfers said.
As could be expected in a month where snow and ice kept many people away from work temporarily, the average workweek and overtime hours both declined in February.
But average hourly earnings posted an unusually strong increase of 9 cents to $24.31, bringing the yearly wage gain to 2.2 percent, in a hopeful sign that growth in incomes may be finally starting to show signs of life after a five-year drought.
The stronger growth in wages might have owed to greater job creation in business and professional areas such as accounting and building services, which tend to pay higher than average salaries.
Job gains in health care were anemic for a third straight month, and employment changed little in other major areas such as retail, manufacturing and government.
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