Unemployment figures declined slightly in February, when the overall jobless rate in the United States was 7.3 percent. But the outlook for the remainder of 1981 is for sharp increases in the ranks of the jobless -- with unemployment rates that could exceed 8 percent in the months ahead.
Based on a montly sampling of 65,000 homes by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans working edged up by 231,000 to reach 97,927,000 in February. Other bureau estimates (based on nonfarm payroll data) placed the employment figure at 91,550,000 in February, with a smaller increase of 51,000 from the January level.
The unemployment total fell to 7,754,000, a drop of 93,000 workers. The decline of one-tenth of a percentage point is considered too small to have economic significance. National unemployment rates have fluctuated between 7.4 percent and 7.6 percent for nine months.
Reagan administration economic forecasts are for sluggish activity in the second and third quarters of this year, perhaps with some declines, but no recession.
If the projections are correct, unemployment is likely to go up significantly in the spring and summer, with the jobless rate averaging 7.8 percent for the year -- an average which would mean unemployment levels exceeding 8 percent during the second and third quarters before improvements in the lat e fall.