U.S. employers axed 651,000 jobs in February, pushing the unemployment rate to its highest in 25 years, as companies buckled under the strain of a recession that is showing no signs of ending, according to a government report.

The Labor Department on Friday said the unemployment rate surged to 8.1 percent in February, the highest level since December 1983. That was above market forecasts for a rise to 7.9 from January's 7.6 percent.

January's job cuts were revised to show a steep decline of 655,000, while December's payrolls losses were adjusted to 681,000, the deepest since October 1949. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the economy has purged 4.4 million jobs, with more than half occurring in the last 4 months.

Job losses in February were broad based, with only government, education and health services adding jobs.

Since the recession began, the rise in unemployment has been concentrated among people who lost jobs, as opposed to job leavers or people joining the labor force, said Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall

The manufacturing sector shed 168,000 jobs in February, after eliminating 257,000 positions the prior month. Construction industries bled 104,000 jobs in February after losing 118,000 in January. The service-providing industry slashed 375,000 positions after shedding 276,000 in January.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)