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

The government said employers added slightly fewer jobs in January than the government had first estimated. Job gains were lowered to 119,000 from an initially estimated 157,000. Still, December hiring was a little stronger than first thought, with 219,000 jobs added instead of 191,000.

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

Retailers added 24,000 jobs, a sign that they anticipate healthy consumer spending in the coming months. 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 in industries like accounting, engineering and information technology. That's 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.

"We're seeing the mix of jobs improve," says Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics.

The improved job market can also benefit countries that sell goods and services to U.S. consumers and businesses.

"All you have to do is look at the trade numbers," says Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. "The strength in the U.S. economy is leading to faster growth in imports."

Imports rose 2 percent in January from December. Those from China surged 7 percent.

A stronger U.S. economy, Baumohl says, will also help a battered Europe, which is contending with high unemployment and a debt crisis. The United States is the No. 1 market for exports from the 27-country European Union.

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