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February Jobs Report Shows Robust Payroll Growth

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

We have some positive news on the jobs front today. The government's monthly employment report showed 192,000 new jobs added to business payrolls in February - 192,000 net, meaning more jobs created than were lost. And the unemployment rate edged down, slightly, it's below nine percent now, 8.9 percent. NPR's John Ydstie is covering this story. He's live in the studios. John, good morning once again.

JOHN YDSTIE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. What do you see when you look through the details here?

YDSTIE: Well, it is a positive number - 192,000 new jobs added to payrolls last month. That's more than double the average for the last year. Also, the unemployment rate down a tenth of a percent - 8.9 percent - that's the lowest unemployment rate in almost two years. As you look a little deeper, you see 222,000 jobs added to private payrolls. That's nice to see because it suggests private sector employers are gaining confidence and hiring more people. That provides more evidence that the recovery's becoming self-sustaining and less dependent on the government.

INSKEEP: Government payrolls must be going down then, if the...

YDSTIE: Absolutely. Flipside is state and local governments cut 30,000 jobs because of budget difficulties. That highlights one of the challenges.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you, though, John, because there was a surprise in January, that private employers didn't - hardly seemed to hire anybody, in relative terms. Were they just a little slower getting going - making up for what we saw in January?

YDSTIE: Well, it's a good question. There was a lot of talk about the weather, particularly, in January, holding back employment. And you certainly see a nice increase in construction jobs, at 33,000 new jobs. That sector lost 22,000 in January, so you could say this is a catch up for the weather. But also in this report, we got an upward revision of in the January's overall job number.

INSKEEP: Oh, January was better than people thought.

YDSTIE: Absolutely. Up - it almost doubled, to 63,000 new jobs in January. So, when you average January and February job growth, you get close to 130,000 new jobs a month. Well above the average for the last year. And again, I think - look at this 222,000 jobs added by private employers. That's the key, because it suggests some momentum-building in the private sector. Included in that is another strong increase in manufacturing, of 33,000 new jobs.

INSKEEP: Tons of manufacturing jobs were lost in the recession, but now they're being strongly added back again.

YDSTIE: Yes they are.

INSKEEP: Nowhere near as many, yet, but they're being added.

YDSTIE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: I don't want to get too lost in the numbers, John, but I want to focus on the number that everybody can get their brain about this. Unemployment percentage, is it fair to say this could be a politically significant change, even though it's so, so tiny. Nine percent unemployment sounds really, really bad; 8.9 percent - still very bad but it feels a little better to me.

YDSTIE: Well, certainly, when you get into the eights from the nines, it's better. It was good to get out of the tens, into the nines, now we're into the eights. And I'm sure people at the Whitehouse are quite happy. I'm sure they're quite happy about the 192,000 new jobs, because again, shows stronger job growth and some momentum. But I think there are still many challenges here.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. What is the pessimistic case for the economy, even though the numbers look good today? We just have a few seconds.

YDSTIE: Well, state and local government problems are a problem. Rising oil prices, the housing sector remains dismal, and there are still 13.7 million people out of work - half of them - almost half of them - for six months. So there's a long way to go.

INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.

YDSTIE: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's John Ydstie is in our studios this morning, bringing us the latest on the unemployment report - unemployment now down to 8.9 percent as the economy added a net 192,000 jobs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.