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February jobs report: 36,000 jobs lost, but mostly a holding pattern

The February jobs report showed the unemployment rate steady at 9.7 percent and 36,000 jobs lost. Hiring may get a boost in March.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / March 5, 2010

People looking for jobs waited in line to meet professionals from more than 30 employers at the UJA-Federation of New York's Connect to Care job fair in New York on March 2. The US economy lost another 36,000 jobs, according to the February jobs report, but hiring could pick up in March.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File

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The February jobs report shows American businesses have just about ended the firings, but they haven’t yet started hiring.

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The US economy last month shed 36,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, the same as in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Friday.

But March may be looking up. Many economists foresee a gain in the number of jobs, in large part because the US Census Bureau is expected to begin hiring people to help with the 2010 census. It’s less certain that private businesses are starting to add many workers to their payrolls; that is not likely to happen until summer.

The White House viewed the report in positive terms. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, called it “consistent with the pattern of stabilization and gradual labor market healing we have been seeing in recent months.” She also took heart that the number of workers unemployed for more than six months fell by 180,000, the first decline in a year.

Snow storm impact minimal

February’s job losses were fewer than many forecasters had expected, given the general slowdown caused by huge snowstorms in parts of the nation during the survey week. Although many workers may have not been able to get to their jobs, they were counted as having a job if they received any pay during the week of the survey.

“It looks like the weather had a very small impact,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “The job losses were not as large as feared.”

Still, the severe weather may have affected payroll employment and hours, the BLS said. But, it added, “It is not possible to quantify precisely the net impact of the winter storms on these measures.”

The February jobs report shows an economy that is barely moving as winter gives way to spring.

“It’s moving forward, but it has not yet moved into higher gear,” says Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors in New Holland, Pa.

Mr. Zandi calls the economy “flat.”

The monthly jobs report is a closely watched barometer for the health of the economy.

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