WASHINGTON (AP) — Employers hired in February at the fastest pace in almost a year and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent — a nearly two-year low.
The economy added 192,000 jobs last month, with factories, professional and business services, education and health care among those expanding employment. Retailers, however, trimmed jobs. State and local government, wrestling with budget shortfalls, slashed 30,000 jobs, the most since November. Federal government hiring was flat.
Private employers added 222,000 jobs last month, the most since April. That shows that companies are feeling more confident in the economy and about their own financial prospects. And it bolstered hopes that businesses will shift into a more aggressively hiring mode and boost the economic recovery.
The unemployment rate is now at the lowest point since April 2009. It has been falling for three months, down from 9.8 percent in November, marking the sharpest three-month decline since 1983.
The number of unemployed people dipped to 13.7 million, still almost double since before the recession.
When factoring in the number of part-time workers who would rather be working full time and those who have given up looking for work, the percentage of "underemployed" people dropped to 15.9 percent in February. That's the lowest in nearly two years.
The positive news on the hiring front comes as the larger economy is gaining momentum.
Americans shoppers are spending more. U.S. exporters are selling more abroad. Manufacturing is growing at the fastest pace in nearly seven years. And the service sector, which employs about 90 percent of the work force, is expanding at the fastest clip in more than five years.