U.S. employment gains beat expectations in February as the unemployment rate held steady.
The country added 242,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in February, far ahead of the January gains and beating economist forecasts. According to Reuters, analysts had predicted that the U.S. would add only 190,000 jobs in February.
January job gains were also revised from 151,000 to 172,000, and December gains were revised from 262,000 to 271,000. The average monthly job gains over the previous three months was 228,000.
The unemployment rate remained unchanged in February, holding at 4.9 percent, an eight-year low, according to Reuters, and 7.8 million people were without jobs during the month. Over the year, the unemployment rate has fallen by 0.6 percentage points.
The news source noted it was significant that the unemployment rate held steady despite more people joining the labor market in February. The labor force participation rate, which measures the number of people who are either employed or searching for a job, increased to 62.9 percent during the month.
Average hourly earnings for private nonfarm payrolls fell by 3 cents to $25.35 in February, however, Reuters attributed the slump to a "calendar quirk."
Healthcare leads sector growth
Healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, food services and drinking places and private educational services registered job growth in February.
Healthcare and social assistance gained 57,000 jobs during the month, with healthcare employment growing by 38,000 positions, ambulatory jobs rising by 24,000 and hospital positions increasing by 11,000. Over the year, hospitals have gained 181,000 jobs. Social assistance positions grew by 19,000, with the bulk of the jobs in individual and family services.
Employment in food services and drinking places grew by 40,000 in February, with the sector adding 359,000 jobs over the year.
Private educational services employment bounced back after losing 20,000 jobs in January to add 28,000 in February.
Construction employment continued to rise, gaining 19,000 jobs in February. Most of the jobs were in residential specialty trade contractors, which accounted for half of the 253,000 job gains the industry has seen over the last year.
Industries that remained virtually unchanged throughout the month included manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, financial activities, professional and business services, and government.
Rate hikes reconsidered
Turbulent financial markets had made it unlikely that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates. Reuters reported, however, that the positive February employment figures and growth forecasts may put rate hikes back on the table at the Fed meeting in June.