The number of unemployed people in the US fell unexpectedly in February, indicating that the labor market is strengthening.

The unemployment rate in the US fell to 8.9 percent in February from 9 percent in January, the Labor Department said on Friday. Markets had expected the jobless rate to rise to 9.1 percent in the month. February’s decline in unemployment rate was the third consecutive monthly decrease.

Separately, the labor department data showed that nonfarm payroll employment rose by 192,000 in February, while the markets had expected an increase of 180,000.

Initial jobless claims in the US fell to 368,000 last week, recording the lowest level since May 2008. The highest number of people seeking the unemployment benefits stood at 651,000 during the recession.

A report from ADP on Wednesday showed that private sector employment increased by 217,000 from January to February, posting a gain for a fifth straight month.