WASHINGTON: The US economy pumped out a strong 295,000 net new jobs in February despite some severe weather disruptions and mounting layoffs in the oil industry, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The better-than-expected jobs number sent the unemployment rate down to 5.5 percent, from 5.7 percent previously and the lowest level since May 2008.
Hiring was strong in restaurants, health care, and administrative services, and steady in construction and retail trade.
The oil and gas industry, just beginning to cut back in the face of the crash of crude prices, shed about 8,500 jobs.
The fall in the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent, based on the often volatile household employment survey, reflected as much a surge in the number of dropouts from the labor force as it did new jobs creation.
The overall rate of participation in the workforce — closely eyed for signs of a sustained pickup in hiring — was barely changed at 62.8 percent.
Another sign of whether the market is tightening, the pace of wage increases, was also little-changed: at $24.78, average hourly wages were up 3 cents from January and 2.0 percent from a year ago.