Employers adding jobs nationwide as unemployment rate dips to near two-year low

Employers added 192,000 jobs nationwide in February, as the unemployment rate dipped to 8.9 percent, its lowest level in nearly two years.

The unemployment rate today fell by 0.1 of a percentage point from January, the first time it’s been below 9 percent since April of 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employment rose across all major non-government sectors, led by 47,000 jobs added in professional and business service, 34,000 in health care and 33,000 each in manufacturing and construction sectors. Government employment declined by 30,000 for the month.

The labor force of 153.2 million and the number of unemployed persons at 13.7 million remained essentially unchanged from January.  In addition, the manufacturing workweek for all employees rose by 0.1 hour to 40.5 hours, while factory overtime rose by 0.2 hour to 3.3 hours.

Six million workers have been jobless for 27 weeks or more, classified as long-term unemployed, accounting for 43.9 percent of the total unemployed, but the number fell by 217,000 from January.

One million people were categorized as “discouraged workers” (not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them). That’s up 27,000 from January but down 183,000 from a year ago. These workers are not counted in the official unemployment rate.

This morning’s report follows two months in a row of large 0.4 percentage-point declines in the unemployment rate. The rate has fallen by that amount or more only six times in the last 40 years.

The relatively strong jobs report followed a more troubling report earlier in the week showing a 32 percent rise in planned job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers in February, compared with the previous month, according to the outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.  

The announced 50,702 future layoffs is highest total since last March, including 3,973 reported job cuts in Minnesota, The largest number of announced layoffs came from government and nonprofit employers, which announced 16,380 job cuts, up 154 percent from 6,450 in January and 196 percent higher than a year ago.

“It is too soon to say whether the increases in January and now February represent a trend,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Certainly the specter of rising gas prices could impact employers’ staffing decisions over the next six months.  At the very least, rising energy costs could force employers to postpone hiring plans.  At worse, increased costs could kill the fragile recovery and spur another round of layoffs.”

Minnesota’s February unemployment report for February is scheduled for release March 17.

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