Employers boosted payrolls more than forecast in February, indicating companies are growing more optimistic about the expansion. The jobless rate held at 8.3 percent.
The 227,000 increase in payrolls followed a revised 284,000 gain in January that was bigger than first estimated, Labor Department figures showed Friday. Job growth over the past six months was the strongest since 2006. The median projection of economists in a Bloomberg News survey called for a 210,000 rise in February employment.
The consensus view among economists was unqualified, or barely so.
"The jobs report was very positive, both due to the job growth estimate for February but also the upward revisions of the two previous months," Eric Thompson, an economist and director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in an email. Revisions added a total of 61,000 jobs to payrolls in December and January.
"After the revisions, monthly job growth in the employer survey has averaged 248,000 over the last three months, from December to February," Thompson said. "This is rapid enough growth to absorb new workers and put people back to work.
"Sometimes, as in January, this will be evident in a falling unemployment rate (which fell from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent). In other months, like this month, it will be reflected in a rising labor force participation rate (which rose from 63.7 percent to 63.9 percent). But, people are going back to work," he said.
Two other points to be considered, according to Thompson: The job growth was broad-based across nearly all sectors.
And growth estimates were even more robust in the household survey, the poll used to calculate the unemployment rate. In the household survey, employment rose by 428,000. A separate survey of businesses produces the jobs calculation.
About 1.2 million jobs were created in the past six months, the most since the same period ended May 2006.
Government payrolls decreased by 6,000 in February, reflecting cutbacks at the federal and state levels.
The so-called underemployment rate, which includes part- time workers who'd prefer full-time positions and people who want work but have given up looking, decreased to 14.9 percent from 15.1 percent.
The report also showed a decrease in long-term unemployed Americans. The number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or more fell as a percentage of all jobless, to 42.6 percent from 42.9 percent.