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US Adds 236K Jobs, Unemployment Falls To 7.7 Pct.

Some $44 billion in spending cuts kicked in last week after Congress failed to reach a budget deal. The cuts are expected to shave about a half-point from economic growth this year and lower total hiring by about 30,000 jobs a month from April through September, according to Moody's Analytics.

And most workers have had to absorb higher Social Security taxes this year. Someone earning $50,000 has about $1,000 less to spend in 2013. A household with two high-paid workers has up to $4,500 less.

Stock prices rose after the report was released and strengthened later in the day. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 67 points to 14,397, its fourth straight record close.

Robust auto sales and a steady housing recovery are spurring more hiring, which will trigger more consumer spending and could lead to stronger economic growth. The construction industry added 48,000 jobs in February; it's added 151,000 since September. Manufacturing gained 14,000 jobs last month and 39,000 since November.

Among industry categories, the biggest job growth in February was in professional and business services, which added 73,000. This category includes higher-paying jobs in accounting, engineering and information technology as well as temporary positions that typically pay less.

Retailers added 24,000 jobs. Education and health services gained 24,000. And the information industry, which includes publishing, telecommunications and film, added 20,000, mostly in the movie industry.

The economy is generating more higher-paying jobs. That trend is raising average pay, which will help offset the hit that Americans took from higher Social Security taxes and gas prices.

Hourly wages rose 4 cents to $23.82 last month. Wages have risen 2.1 percent over the past year, slightly ahead of inflation. Higher pay is vital to the economy because consumer spending drives 70 percent of economic activity.

Hotel chain Cambria Suites expects business travel to rise 5 percent this year and next. Cambria, a unit of Choice Hotels International, is building nearly 20 hotels around the country, doubling its total. It plans to add 110 jobs this year and 400 next year to its workforce of 600.

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