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U.S. employers added 311,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate edged up to 3.6%, according to the latest data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Although hiring was stronger than economists had expected, the pace of hiring decelerated compared to the average monthly gain of 343,000 jobs over the prior six months and January’s blockbuster gain of 504,000 jobs, a number that was revised downward from 517,000. However, the 311,000 new jobs added in February exceeded the Dow Jones prediction of 225,000. 

The February Employment Situation Summary may keep pressure on the Federal Reserve Board, which has been trying to slow down the economy with a series of interest rate increases. The jobs report is only one of several key economic reports that will be released before the Fed’s upcoming policymaking meeting on March 22 when it will make its next decision about interest rates. 

The stock market was down in early trading Friday after the jobs report was released, but investors may have been reacting more to news weighing on the banking sector about the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, a major investor in venture capital firms and technology startups. The Federal Deposit Insurance Company on Friday took control of the bank, the largest bank failure since the 2008 financial crisis.

The most notable job gains occurred last month in leisure and hospitality (+105,000), retail trade (+50,000), government (+46,000), professional and business services (+45,000) and healthcare (+44,000). Employment declined in the information sector, which lost 25,000 jobs, and in transportation and warehousing, which lost 22,000 jobs. 

Government employment increased by 46,000 in February, about the same as the average monthly gain of 44,000 over the prior six months. Employment in local government continued to trend up in February (+37,000).

Construction employment grew by 24,000 in February, in line with the average monthly growth of 20,000 over the prior six months. Employment showed little change over the month in other major industries, including manufacturing; wholesale trade; financial activities; and other services.

Both the unemployment rate, at 3.6%, and the number of unemployed persons, at 5.9 million, edged up in February. The jobless rate has hovered between 3.6% (November 2022) and 3.4% (January 2023) over the past several months, the federal government said. 

In February, the labor force participation rate was 62.5% and the employment-population ratio held at 60.2%. These measures have shown little net change since early 2022 and remain below their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels (63.3% and 61.1%, respectively).  

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 0.2% to $33.09 in February. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 4.6% percent.