The U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in February, and earlier months' gains were greater than previously thought, the Labor Department reported on Friday, painting the picture of a solid recovery that gives President Obama some room to brag on the campaign trail.
The unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent as more people entered the labor force, looking for work.
“This is a solid report. It’s extremely hard to dig around and find any surprises,” said Ellen Zentner, senior U.S. economist at Nomura Securities International. More and faster improvement is needed for a strong recovery to prerecession levels, economists say.
February was the third consecutive month to see job growth exceeding 200,000, the first such stretch in a year. Before 2011, the last time jobs grew by more than 200,000 was in early 2006, well before the recession. The February numbers also cap the strongest six months of job growth since mid-2006.
Unemployment may continue to drop throughout the year, extending a trend that bodes well for Obama, but the reasons behind it are important, economists say. “If it’s because of stronger job growth, then that’s very encouraging,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “If it’s because there’s very little labor-force growth, then that kind of tempers the enthusiasm,” he said.
But finer-grain data show little change. The long-term unemployed, who have more difficulty reentering the workforce, still account for more than 40 percent of the unemployed.
“The Fed will likely upgrade its assessment of current labor-market conditions but leave the language unchanged that the unemployment rate remains elevated, so still tempering expectations for further improvement in the labor market. But, clearly, they have to acknowledge that this is a better labor market today than it was back at their January meeting,” said Nomura's Zentner said.
Republicans will likely argue that the figures show that economy is not improving quickly enough, while Democrats and the president are already asserting that report verifies Obama’s economic approach.
Obama was quick to tout the data on the campaign trail.
"Here’s the good news: over the past two years our businesses have added nearly four million new jobs," he said in remarks at the Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility in Prince George County, Virginia. "More companies are bringing jobs back and investing in America. And manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. We just had another good month last month in terms of adding manufacturing jobs."