WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers stepped up hiring in February despite a blast of harsh winter weather, renewing hopes that the economy could accelerate this year.
February's gain of 175,000 jobs, up from January's 129,000, coincided with a rise in the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent from a five-year low of 6.6 percent. The rate rose because more people began seeking jobs but some didn't find them. That's still an encouraging sign: More job hunters suggest that people grew more optimistic about their prospects.
Today's figures from the Labor Department were a welcome surprise after recent reports showed that harsh weather had closed factories, lowered auto sales and slowed home sales. Along with an increase in wages last month, the report suggests that some employers are confident that consumer spending will pick up in coming months.
"If the economy managed to generate 175,000 new jobs in a month when the weather was so severe, once the weather returns to seasonal norms ... employment growth is likely to accelerate further," Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.