February Job Growth Smashes Expectations: U.S. Economy Adds 273,000 Jobs, after 175,000 Expected

December & January’s growth estimates were revised upward by a total of 243,000.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Texas Insider Report) — The Labor Department reported Friday that the U.S. economy added 273,000 new jobs during the month, while the unemployment rate was 3.5%, matching its lowest level in more than 50 years. The January and February gains tied for best month since May 2018, as the jobs numbers took on particular importance in February.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for payroll growth of 175,000 and a 3.5% jobless level.

Average hourly earnings grew by 3% over the past year, in line with estimates, while the average work week, considered a key measure of productivity, nudged up to 34.4 hours.

There was more good news for the jobs market:
  • The previous two months’ estimates were revised higher by a total of 85,000.
  • December moved up from 147,000 to 184,000
  • While January went from 225,000 to 273,000
  • Those revisions brought the 3-month average up to a robust 243,000 while the average monthly gain in 2019 was 178,000.
Job gains were widespread, with health care and social assistance adding 57,000 to lead the way.

Food services and drinking places both added 53,000 while government employment grew by 45,000 due to Census hiring and state government education.

Construction added 42,000 thanks to continued mild weather, while professional and technical services contributed 32,000 and finance rose by 26,000, part of a 160,000 gain over the past 12 months.

In the survey of households, employment rose by 126,000 while the ranks of the unemployed decreased by 105,000. 

Jobs Market Still Looks Strong

Most of the indicators thus far have shown little damage as worries intensified over the economic impact from the novel coronavirus, though the report covered the time frame before worries over the disease intensified. Jobless claims remain well within their recent trend, coming in at 216,000 in the latest reading Thursday.

Job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas also reported Thursday that planned layoffs actually fell 16% from January. And key ISM readings on both manufacturing and services show companies still plan to hire.

“Now more than ever, we need to focus on the labor market data,” said Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab. “The consumer has kind of kept things afloat.”

Most of the consumer-related data points have been good, though the reports coming in now largely cover the early stages of the coronavirus scare and the sharp recent stock market volatility.

With the large measure of uncertainty around the disease, its impacts may be felt in increments rather than suddenly. But if cracks begin to form, the first notices likely will come in employment data.

“While it’s too early to see the impact of the coronavirus on the labor market, we can say the labor market was in a good place before the virus began to spread,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director at job placement firm Indeed. “But the next few months will be a test of just how resilient this labor market is.”
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