Mystery solved?

For the first time in months, the Labor Department's job market assessment matches up with private surveys showing a pick-up in employment that is finally fast enough to put a substantial dent in the unemployment rate.

Construction, manufacturing and services all contributed to the slightly stronger-than-expected February payroll gain of 192,000 jobs.

The dip in the jobless rate to 8.9 percent also shows a strengthening labor market.

For the Federal Reserve, the improvement will likely be seen as a welcome sign of a self-sustaining recovery, but the jobless rate remains far above normal, which means interest rates will stay extraordinarily low.


* Friday's report showed consistency between the two surveys the Labor Department uses to measure the job market. In the prior two months, the surveys gave conflicting signals.

* The establishment survey, used to determine the net monthly payrolls number, showed strong gains in private-sector hiring, particularly in professional and business services, manufacturing and construction.

* The household survey, from which the unemployment rate is derived, showed 250,000 more people reporting they were employed, and a drop of 190,000 in those saying they were unemployed. That was the primary reason for the dip in the jobless rate, unlike in December when the drop was largely due to discouraged workers giving up the job search.

* The labor force participation rate, a measure of how many people are actively in the job market, was unchanged at 64.2 percent.

* The government's data now looks more in line with private surveys such as the monthly ISM and ADP reports, which have shown a pick-up in hiring in recent months.

* The Labor Department revised up its job tally for December and January, putting it closer in line with those healthier-looking private-sector surveys.


* State and local government budget strains were obvious once again. State governments shed 12,000 jobs, while municipalities lost 18,000.

* Teaching jobs accounted for the majority of the losses.

* Other sectors showing declines in February included retail, down 8,100 jobs. The losses there were concentrated in building material and garden supply stores, as well as electronics and appliances chains.

(Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)