By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ A burst of hiring last month added 236,000 U.S. jobs and reduced the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in January. The robust gains suggested that the economy can strengthen further despite higher taxes and government spending cuts.
The February jobs report issued Friday by the Labor Department provided encouraging details: The unemployment rate is at its lowest level in four years. Job growth has averaged more than 200,000 a month since November. Wages rose. And the job gains were broad-based, led by the most construction hiring in six years.
Employers have been emboldened by a rebounding U.S. economy. The housing, auto and manufacturing sectors have improved. Corporate profits are strong. And the Dow Jones industrial average is at a record high.
The unemployment rate, which had been stuck at 7.8 percent or above since September, declined mostly because more people found work. Another factor was that 130,000 people without jobs stopped looking for work last month. The government doesn't count them as unemployed.
The unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households. The job gains are derived from a separate survey of employers.
The 236,000 jobs that were added in February is a historically solid total. And it would have been higher if governments were contributing to job growth, rather than subtracting from it as they have for nearly four years. Governments cut 10,000 jobs in February.
If federal, state and local governments were adding their long-term combined average of 20,000 to 25,000 jobs a month, February's total job gains would have been around 260,000.
Hiring has accelerated since summer. Employers added an average of 205,000 jobs a month from November through February. They had averaged 154,000 gains from July through October and 132,000 from March through June.
Stock prices rose modestly Friday after the report was released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. Another day of stock gains would give the Dow Jones industrial average its fourth straight record close.