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February U.S. Job Gains Beat Expectations

U.S. employers added 242,000 jobs in February, roundly surpassing predictions from economists by over 50,000 jobs. The unemployment rate remained 4.9% – the lowest reading during the seven-year recovery from the Great Recession.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that job gains in February were especially robust in education and health services, registering the highest monthly growth since 2004. February marked the 65th consecutive month of U.S. job gains – a feat accomplished even as the mining industry cut jobs (19,000 in February alone) and questions loomed about the strength of the global economy.

Notably, the labor market participation rate – which measures the percentage of people working or looking for work – has ticked up a half-percentage point to 62.9% since falling to a low point in September, a separate survey found.

“Look at new car sales. Look at the fact that more people are entering the labor market. They’re buying homes. They’re going out to dinner,” Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told The Wall Street Journal. “These are all indicators of an economy that continues to move in the right direction and weather the headwinds.”

While the data on jobs was encouraging, the news wasn’t all upbeat. The average hourly salary declined last month to $25.35, a drop of three cents from January. Nonetheless, monthly wage readings can be volatile, and Americans are earning, on average, 2.2% more now than a year earlier.