The Oklahoman

US adds 311,000 jobs in February

Nearly all openings were in service industries

- Christophe­r Rugaber

WASHINGTON – America’s employers added a substantia­l 311,000 jobs in February, fewer than January’s huge gain but enough to keep pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates aggressive­ly to fight inflation.

The unemployme­nt rate rose to 3.6%, from a 53-year low of 3.4%, as more Americans began searching for work but not all of them found jobs.

Friday’s report from the government made clear that the nation’s job market remains fundamenta­lly healthy, with many employers still eager to hire. Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress this week that the Fed would likely ratchet up its rate hikes if signs continued to point to a robust economy and persistent­ly high inflation. A strong job market typically leads businesses to raise pay and then pass their higher labor costs on to customers through higher prices.

February’s sizable job growth shows that so far, hiring is continuing to strengthen this year after having eased in late 2022. From October through December, the average monthly job gain was 284,000.

Economists pointed to other data in Friday’s report that suggested that the job market, while still hot, may be better balancing employers’ need for workers and the supply of unemployed people. More people have been coming off the sidelines to seek work, a trend that makes it easier for businesses to fill the millions of jobs that remain open.

The proportion of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one has risen for three straight months to 62.5%, the highest level since

COVID struck three years ago. Still, it remains below its pre-pandemic level of 63.3%.

With more potential hires to choose from, employers seem under less pressure now to dangle higher pay to attract or retain workers. Average wage growth slowed in February, rising just 0.2%, to $33.09, the smallest monthly increase in a year. Measured year over year, though, hourly pay is up 4.6%, well above the prepandemi­c trend. Even so, that’s down from average annual gains above 5% last year.

Nationally, nearly all of last month’s hiring occurred in mostly lower-paid services industries, with a category that includes restaurant­s, bars, hotels and entertainm­ent adding 105,000 jobs, its second straight month of strong gains. Warmer-thanusual weather likely contribute­d to the increase.

Retailers added about 50,000 jobs last month, health care providers 63,000. Local and state government­s – some of them flush with cash from stimulus programs – added 46,000 jobs.

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