U.S. labor update: Job gains continue, jobless rate steady

Employers added more than 240,000 people to payrolls and the unemployment rate remained at an eight-year low, according to the latest estimates for the United States labor market.

The Labor Department reported that nonfarm payrolls increased 242,000 in February with hiring in the health care, retail trade and hospitality sectors. The jobless rate held steady at 4.9 percent, the lowest level since 2008.

Initial estimates for job gains in January and December were revised upward to 172,000 and 271,000, respectively. That’s 30,000 more previously reported.

With the latest numbers, nonfarm payrolls have increased an average of 228,000 over the past three months.

Still, 7.8 million were counted among the unemployed in February. The number of people out of work for 27 weeks or longer remained unchanged at 2.2 million. The number of people working part time because their hours had been cut or they  were unable to find full-time positions held steady at 6 million.

The labor force participation rate edged up to 62.9 percent.

The health care and social assistance sector added an estimated 57,000 jobs with gains in ambulatory health care services and hospitals. Retail trades added 55,000 jobs with hiring in food and beverage and general merchandise stores.

Employment increased 40,000 at food service and drinking places and 28,000 with private educational services. Construction payrolls continued to trend up with 19,000 net new jobs.

Mining payrolls continued to decline, though, with the loss of another 19,000 jobs, most of those in support services.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls fell two-tenths of an hour to 34.4 hours. The manufacturing workweek remained unchanged at 40.8 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls slipped 3 cents to $25.35. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 2.2 percent.