The unemployment rate, meanwhile, edged up to 6.7% from 6.6% to mark the first increase in 14 months. Yet the rate rose because more people entered the labor force in search of jobs, which is usually a sign that they think more work is available.
What’s more, employment likely would have been stronger if not for the weather. The number of people who said they could not make it to work surged above 600,000 last month, twice as many as is normally the case in February.
The better-than-expected headline number on jobs lifted U.S. stocks in early action andpaves the way for the Federal Reserve to continue to withdraw stimulus from the economy. Economists expected an increase of 140,000 nonfarms.
Yet the latest jobs report also contained some worrisome signs. Hiring in the health-care industry has sharply tapered off and the number of hours that people work each week fell again and touched the lowest level in three years. The decline in hours worked in February was largely because of poor weather, but the workweek is still several ticks below the post-recession peak last achieved in November.
Both of these trends raise questions as to whether the advent of the law commonly known as Obamacare has spurred companies to cut hours or hire more part-time workers.
The pace of hiring is also a lot softer compared to last fall. The economy has added an average of 131,000 jobs in the past three months, compared to an average of 225,000 from September through November. And the number of people who have been out of work at least six months rose by the largest amount in almost two years.
Economists say it may take another month or two to get a better read on the economy’s health because of unusually cold and snowy weather in the early part of 2014.
In February, hiring was strongest in professional services, education and bars and restaurants, the Labor Department said .The professional ranks — engineers, executives, lawyers and the like — swelled by 79,000 in February after two straight months of soft hiring. That category of workers has grown the fastest since the Great Recession ended in mid-2009.About one-third of the professional jobs were temporary, however.