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New Jobs Report Shows Economy on the Comeback Trail as More States Ditch Lockdowns

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U.S. employers added a robust 379,000 jobs last month, the most since October and a sign that the economy is strengthening as COVID-19 cases drop, consumers spend more and states and cities ease business restrictions.

The February gain was a sharp increase from the 166,000 jobs added in January and the loss of 306,000 in December.

Yet it represents just a fraction of the roughly 9.6 million jobs the economy needs to regain to return to pre-lockdown levels.

The surge in hiring lowered the unemployment rate from 6.3 percent to 6.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report.

That is down dramatically from the 14.8 percent jobless rate of April of last year. But it’s well above the pre-lockdown unemployment rate of 3.5 percent.

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Stock prices surged on the news of solid job growth, a day after Wall Street suffered deep losses on fears that inflation and interest rates could soon be headed higher.

Friday’s report showed that the nation’s job growth is still being driven by a steady recovery of bars, restaurants and other leisure and hospitality establishments. Bars and restaurants, in particular, surged back last month, adding 286,000 jobs as business restrictions eased in California and other states.

That trend will likely continue as Texas this week joined some other states in announcing that it would fully reopen its economy with no restrictions.

Also hiring last month were retailers, which added 41,000 jobs, health care companies with 46,000 and manufacturers with 21,000.

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On the other hand, construction companies shed 61,000 jobs, likely in part because of the severe storms and power outages in Texas.

Friday’s strong jobs report could complicate President Joe Biden’s push for his $1.9 trillion economic relief package, which is being considered by the Senate after winning approval in the House.

The Biden package would provide, among other things, $1,400 checks to most adults, an additional $400 in weekly unemployment aid and another round of aid to small businesses.

The size of the relief package, coming as the economy is already showing improvement, has stoked fears of accelerated inflation sending borrowing costs up and possibly leading the Federal Reserve to jack up interest rates. Those fears have roiled financial markets for the past two weeks.

Other recent economic reports have also suggested better times ahead. Americans sharply increased their spending at retail stores and restaurants in January. Retail sales jumped 5.3 percent after three months of declines.

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Factory output also picked up that month, and demand for long-lasting goods, such as autos and aircraft, rose 3.4 percent, the government said last week.

Home sales have been on a tear for most of the past year, driven by low mortgage rates. Sales were nearly 24 percent higher in January than a year earlier.

One discouraging note in the February data is that last month’s net job growth came entirely from people who reported that their layoffs had been temporary. By contrast, the number of people who said their jobs were permanently gone was largely unchanged compared with January.

People who have permanently lost jobs typically face a tougher time finding new work. In many cases, their former employers have gone out of business.

With so much money being pumped into the economy, Oxford Economics forecasts that growth will reach 7 percent for all of 2021, which would be the fastest calendar-year expansion since 1984.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the nation will add a substantial 6.2 million jobs this year, though that wouldn’t be nearly enough to restore employment to pre-lockdown levels.


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