The US economy added 236,000 jobs in February, and unemployment fell to 7.7 percent of the workforce, adding to signs of steady job-market momentum despite the burden of higher gas prices and tax hikes.
The job numbers, released by the Labor Department, come as the US stock market is also showing investor optimism about the economy. The Dow Jones industrial Average has hit record levels this week, and it rose a bit Friday morning after the jobs report.
In addition to releasing the February numbers, the government revised its tally of new jobs in January (down to 119,000) and December (up to 219,000).
“The economy is moving in the right direction and is weathering the storm of various fiscal headwinds it is currently facing with considerable resilience,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at the data firm Markit, in a report analyzing the new figures.
Even as the jobless rate edged down, however, 12 million Americans are officially counted as unemployed, and still more will seek employment if the job market strengthens further.
So the economy could use a lot more jobs.
What types of employers have been creating jobs?
In February, the categories of “professional and business services,” construction, and health care led the way, with gains equal to about two-thirds of the new jobs.
Here’s a longer-term look at major job sectors tracked by the Labor Department:
Professional and business services. From architects to administrative assistants, this sector is a bulwark of today’s service economy. It has added 488,000 jobs in the past 12 months.
Trade, transportation, and utilities. This sector has added 448,000 jobs in the past year, largely as a growing economy needs more people moving and stocking goods.
Leisure and hospitality. This sector, with everything from restaurants and hotels to professional athletes, has added 323,000 jobs in the past year. Artists and entertainers alone are up by 32,000.
Health care. This has been the juggernaut of the job market, adding jobs through thick and thin. In hospitals, nursing homes, and other venues, this sector has added 300,000 jobs in the past 12 months. More impressive, it has added 1.7 million jobs since February 2007, before the recession. (By contrast, many sectors still show job declines compared with 2007 levels.)
Retail. Retail stores of all kinds have added 252,000 jobs over the past year. However, this job category is among those “in the red” over the past six years, with some 422,000 fewer positions than it had in February 2007.
Construction. This long-battered sector is coming back, with 140,000 jobs added over the past year. Specialty trade contractors (both for residential and nonresidential work) are among the gainers.
Manufacturing. US factories have added 107,000 jobs over the past 12 months. That's a welcome revival for a sector that is still down by more than 2 million jobs since early 2007.
Mining and logging. These jobs have been growing steadily (thank you, energy boom in North Dakota) but remain only a small slice of the overall job market. Employment in this category is up 18,000 in the past year – and up 158,000 over the past six years.
Information. These activities, from publishing and moviemaking to data processing, are up just 16,000 over the past year. But at least that’s some growth. Since February 2007, this category has shed 336,000 jobs.
Financial services. This category, which includes workers in banking, investment, and real estate, has added about 100,000 jobs over the past year. Employment in these fields is still down more than half a million jobs since February 2007.
Education. The Labor Department lumps this one together with health care as a major sector. Viewed on its own, this field hasn’t been adding jobs over the past year, but its employment is up some 408,000 in the past six years.
Government. The public sector lost 100,000 jobs in the past year and nearly 300,000 in the past six years. Those six-year losses have been concentrated at the local level. But over the past year, the belt-tightening climate has meant roughly equal job losses at the federal, state, and local levels.
Add all this up, and the nation has 2.2 million fewer jobs than it did in early 2007. At the current pace, however, it’s possible the economy could add that many back by this time next year.