Make us your home page
Instagram

Nation creates more jobs in February; unemployment rate drops

Job hunting — such as at job fairs like this one in December in St. Petersburg — went extremely well in the United States in February, with 236,000 jobs added. “It certainly demonstrated the economy was gaining some momentum in February,” said Scott Anderson, senior vice president and chief economist for Bank of the West in San Francisco. “This is certainly going to be a report that is cheered by markets, and is certainly consistent with the decline in jobless claims that we’ve seen in recent weeks.”

DIRK SHADD | Times (2012)

Job hunting — such as at job fairs like this one in December in St. Petersburg — went extremely well in the United States in February, with 236,000 jobs added. “It certainly demonstrated the economy was gaining some momentum in February,” said Scott Anderson, senior vice president and chief economist for Bank of the West in San Francisco. “This is certainly going to be a report that is cheered by markets, and is certainly consistent with the decline in jobless claims that we’ve seen in recent weeks.”

WASHINGTON — The stronger-than-expected gain of 236,000 jobs and a four-year-low unemployment rate of 7.7 percent suggested an accelerating economy Friday. The question is whether politicians will ram a stick into the spokes of growth.

The jobs gains in February that were reported Friday exceeded analysts' expectations, which were in the range of 160,000 to 180,000. Coupled with revisions to December's and January's employment numbers, they suggested a clearly improving labor market. They also highlighted, however, the risk that Washington's wrangling over budget matters might thwart momentum in the economy.

"It certainly demonstrated the economy was gaining some momentum in February," said Scott Anderson, senior vice president and chief economist for Bank of the West in San Francisco. "This is certainly going to be a report that is cheered by markets and is certainly consistent with the decline in jobless claims that we've seen in recent weeks."

The problem with Friday's report is that a single month does not make a trend. The surveys that the Bureau of Labor Statistics used to gauge employment and unemployment were conducted in the weeks before Washington failed to stave off the sequester, $85 billion in federal spending cuts that affect many government agencies, including the Pentagon and defense contracts.

Unpaid furloughs of government workers and layoffs at companies that contract with the federal government are likely to be noticed in April; the government report for that month comes in early May.

"I don't think we're completely out of the woods yet. I don't think we've seen evidence of the sequestration in today's report," Anderson said. "It means the private-sector economy was on a stronger trajectory going into the sequestration cuts. Certainly the economy was weathering the tax hikes at the beginning of the year better than expected."

That's a reference to the end of a payroll tax holiday, with the government again taking more out of the paycheck for retirement benefits. Economists thought that might reduce economic activity, resulting in a half percentage point shaved off annual growth. Economists also think that the budget sequester, if not reversed in coming weeks, will shave growth by anywhere from two-tenths of a percentage point to seven-tenths.

There weren't many negatives in Friday's report.

The unemployment rate fell by two-tenths of a percentage point in February to the lowest rate since December 2008. Hours worked by Americans ticked up by half a percentage point, an important indicator of an improving labor market. Even average hourly earnings rose by two-tenths of a percentage point, increasing consumer spending power.

Private-sector employment rose by 246,000, but 10,000 lost government jobs, mostly at state level, dragged down the overall number. The strongest jobs growth last month came in the category of professional and business services, at 73,000 positions, reflecting an increase in better-paying white-collar jobs. Construction employment rose by 48,000, suggesting that lost blue-collar jobs are returning as the housing sector is climbing back.

Stocks opened up sharply on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average pushing higher into the nominal record territory it crossed earlier in the week.

It will take several months of strong hiring numbers to convince skeptics that the labor market is truly recovering. But a jobs creation number above 200,000 is one that both keeps pace with new entrants to the workforce and whittles down the unemployment rate. Job creation last year averaged about 183,000 a month, just enough to hold the jobless rate steady.

The Defense Department has announced that it will begin furloughing its 800,000-civilian workforce one day a week in April. This will show up as a drop in hours worked, and it will ripple through the economy as these workers spend less and save more, bracing for perhaps months of one day a week without pay.

Florida's unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in December. The state will update its rate for January later this month.

.FAST FACTS

Who's hiring?

. Professional and business services, up 73,000

. Construction, up 48,000

. Health care, up 32,000

. Retail, up 23,700

. Temporary help services, up 16,000

. Manufacturing, up 14,000

. Financial services,

up 7,000

. Transportation and warehousing, down 1,300

. Government jobs,

down 10,000

Nation creates more jobs in February; unemployment rate drops 03/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 11:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Macy's chairman replaces ex-HSN head Grossman on National Retail Federation board

    Retail

    Terry Lundgren, chairman of Macy's Inc., will replace Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman as chair of the National Retail Federation, the organization announced Wednesday. Grossman stepped down from her position following her move from leading St. Petersburg-based HSN to Weight Watchers.

    Weight Watchers CEO and former HSN chief Mindy Grossman is being replaced as chair of the National Retail Federation. [HSN Inc.]
  2. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares nearly 25 percent

    Business

    CLEARWATER — Just then you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  3. CapTrust moving headquarters to downtown Park Tower

    Corporate

    TAMPA — CAPTRUST Advisors, a Raleigh, N.C.-based investment consulting firm, is moving its Tampa offices into Park Tower. CapTrust's new space will be 10,500 square feet — the entirety of the 18th floor of the downtown building, which is scheduled to undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation by 2018.

    CAPTRUST Advisors' Tampa location is moving into Park Tower. Pictured is the current CapTrust location at 102 W. Whiting St. | [Times file photo]
  4. Good news: Tampa Bay no longer a major foreclosure capital of the country

    Real Estate

    Once in the top five nationally for foreclosure filings, the Tampa Bay area no longer makes even the top 25.

    A few short years ago, Tampa Bay was a national hub for foreclosures. Not any more. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  5. Tampa-based start-up takes on Airbnb by promoting inclusion, diversity

    Tourism

    NEW TAMPA — Last May, Rohan Gilkes attempted to book a property in Idaho on the home-sharing platform Airbnb. After two failed attempts, the African-American entrepreneur asked a white friend to try, and she was "instantly" approved for the same property and dates.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. Rohan Gilkes, the founder, said he created the organization after several negative experiences with Airbnb.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]