U.S. businesses added 242,000 employees to their payrolls in February as the country’s main measure of joblessness held steady at 4.9 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.
The number was well above the consensus estimate of 190,000 jobs in a Thomson Reuters poll of economists. The jobless rate was in line with expectations, holding steady after dropping in January from 5 percent in December.
“It’s akin to a goldilocks report — not too hot, not too cold — but the longer the unemployment rate stays below 5 percent the better the prospects are for a pickup in wages,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economist at Bankrate.com. “The numbers also show that concern over a possible recession has been misplaced.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised its numbers for the two previous months, with January’s employment gain revised upward to 172,000 from 151,000. December’s final figure was revised to 271,000 from 262,000.
Hourly wages declined by 3 cents to $25.35 after increasing 12 cents in January. Wage growth, a crucial missing element in the post-recession recovery in the past seven years, slowed to 2.2 percent on an annualized rate, down from 2.5 percent last month.
“It’s clear that labor market conditions are still strong,” Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics, said in a note Friday. “The lack of a more marked pick-up in wage growth is the only missing element.”
Friday’s jobs report, along with signs that core inflation is accelerating, bolsters the chances the U.S. Fed will raise interest rates later this year.
The labor force participation rate, which measures the number of adults who are employed or are looking for work, edged up to 62.9 percent from 62.7 percent last month. In September, the rate hit its lowest level since 1977 and has been one of the more worrying aftereffects of the 2007-09 recession. The slow pace of recovery has left many Americans earning less than before the economic meltdown.
If the rate of job creation continues at the current pace it improves the chances of the Democrats in November’s general elections. “President Obama must be hoping to run out the clock on this economic recovery,” said Hamrick.
The U.S. ended last year with an average job creation rate of 228,000 a month, or 2.74 million jobs, down from 3 million in 2014.