US adds 313,000 jobs, unemployment holds at 4%

WASHINGTON • The US employment engine roared in February, adding more new jobs than any month in over a year as robust hiring picked up in construction, retail and manufacturing, the government reported yesterday.

Employers added 313,000 net new non-farm jobs last month, the biggest monthly increase since July 2016, while the unemployment rate remained steady at 4.1 per cent for the fifth month in a row, the Labour Department said in the highly-anticipated monthly report.

"This is a report that's going to strengthen the argument of some of the doves on the Fed, that people came back to the labour force last month - that's a positive sign for the US economy," Princeton University professor Alan Krueger said on Bloomberg Television.

"We'll see how long that can continue," he added.

The result shattered economists' expectations, giving President Donald Trump a shot in the arm just as his support for his "America First" economic agenda appeared to be on shaky ground.

Mr Trump broke with the leaders of his own Republican Party this week, announcing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in a move denounced by top congressional leaders, who said it could undermine the benefits of December's sweeping tax cuts and prompt a global trade war.

The news also was likely to heighten Wall Street anxieties that the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates even faster than expected this year.

On top of the exceptionally strong February, the job gains in December and January were revised up by a combined 54,000, bringing average monthly job creation to a strong 242,000 a month for the latest three months, said the Labour Department.

Hourly wages gained 0.2 per cent for the month, matching analyst expectations but putting compensation up 2.6 per cent over the same month last year - ahead of consumer inflation, which was measured at 2.1 per cent. That could fuel concerns about rising inflation pressures.

The goods-producing sector, including mining, manufacturing and the car sector, added 100,000 new positions while the private services sector added 187,00 jobs.

The public sector gained 26,000, with hiring added in education and at the state government level.

There also were signs the hunger for increasingly scarce workers was causing companies to dig deeper into the labour pool.

The number of discouraged workers or those marginally attached the labour market - such as people working part time who want a full-time position - fell 149,000 from a year earlier to 373,000.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'US adds 313,000 jobs, unemployment holds at 4%'. Subscribe