Unemployment Steady at 8.3 Percent, but Job Market Improving

The February jobs report shows a steadily recovering labor market.

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The Labor Department reported on Friday that the unemployment rate stayed put at 8.3 percent in February, with nonfarm payrolls rising by 227,000 jobs. It is the first time since August that the jobless rate has not fallen.

While the jobless rate is unchanged, the report still indicates a strengthening recovery.

"The really good news is that this pace of job creation looks like it could be sustained through spring and summer, and possibly even pick up," Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis for the Conference Board, said in a statement about the figures.

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Many of the report's underlying numbers reveal sustained strength in the labor market. For example, revisions show that employers added a combined 61,000 more jobs than originally estimated in December and January.

The Labor Department's broadest measure of unemployment, the U-6 unemployment rate, also continued its steady decline, now having fallen from 16.4 percent in September to 14.9 percent in February. This rate includes discouraged workers, people who have looked for work in the last 12 months, and people employed part-time for economic reasons, in addition to unemployed Americans.

Other data suggest that Americans may finally feel more optimistic about the labor market. The civilian labor force participation rate grew by 0.2 percentage points, to 63.9 percent—a small uptick, but the largest since spring 2010. The rate measures the number of people working or looking for a job as a percentage of the entire working-age population. This rate has been on a relatively steady decline since 2008, so the upward movement may mean that out-of-work Americans are re-entering the labor market.

A look at growth in individual industries also yields some promising signs. Manufacturing remains strong, adding 31,000 jobs in February. Temporary help services also added over 45,000 jobs. Perhaps counterintuitively, continued improvements in temporary hiring also may signal future improvements in full-time hiring.

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"Temporary employment shows that companies have work that they need to get done," says Scott Melland, CEO of Dice Holdings, a global online recruiting firm. "Temporary or full-time, they only hire if they need to get things done. What's interesting is that it can be a leading indicator." Increased need for temporary work now may mean that companies have or will soon have a need for more full-time employees.

The jobs report was not without its discouraging signals, though. After two months in which 20,000 jobs were added, construction posted a drop of 13,000 in February, a sign of weakness in housing. Government is also still a drag on the job market, last month shedding 6,000 jobs. And unemployment continues to disproportionately hit different demographic groups: the jobless rate for blacks is at 14.1 percent and for Hispanics, 10.7 percent. For teenagers, the jobless rate is 23.8 percent—considerably higher than the mid-to-upper teen rate seen in the early 2000s.