Two workers position chocolate-covered strawberries at the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate confections store in St. Louis, Mo., on February 11. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
March 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. economy added close to 380,000 jobs during the month of February, the Labor Department said in its monthly labor assessment Friday, smashing most economists' expectations.
According to the report, the economy added about 379,000 jobs for the month, more than twice the number expected by most on Wall Street.
Most analysts had predicted Friday's report would show between 150,000 and 200,000 new payrolls in February.
Friday's report said the unemployment rate declined slightly to 6.2%.
Most of the gains were seen in leisure and hospitality, the department noted. Other industries reporting gains included temporary help services, healthcare, retail trade and manufacturing.
State and local government education, construction and mining sectors reported net losses in jobs last month.
Both the unemployment rate and the total number of jobless Americans (10 million) in February were virtually unchanged from January, the report said.
"Although both measures are much lower than their April 2020 highs, they remain well above their pre-pandemic levels in February 2020 [of 3.5% and 5.7 million, respectively]," it states.
The report showed about 4 million long-term unemployed, those without a job for at least 27 weeks, in the United States in February. The number of workers on temporary layoff declined by 517,000.
The labor assessment reflects the U.S. economy during its first full month under President Joe Biden, who took office near the end of January. Biden has taken a number of steps so far to bolster the federal response to COVID-19 and stimulate the economy, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The large-scale relief and aid package is making its way through Congress, where the Senate is slowly debating the measure -- slowly, because some Republicans in the chamber are dragging out the process. The Senate began debating the package Thursday.
The bill, which was passed by the House a week ago, is expected to pass in the Senate and ultimately reach Biden's desk.
The Democrat-held upper chamber is planning to pass the legislation through the budget reconciliation process, which requires no Republican support -- a process that GOP senators used a number of times to approve legislative priorities, like the 2017 tax code overhaul, when they controlled the Senate under former President Donald Trump.
In the package are a number of appropriations, including billions of dollars for extending enhanced federal unemployment payments for six months, recovery aid for local and state governments, money for protective equipment and funding for vaccine distribution.
Also part of the bill is a third stimulus payment in the amount of $1,400, for Americans who earned up to $75,000 in 2019 or 2020. That amount gradually declines up to $80,000. For couples, the limits are $150,000 and $160,000, respectively.
No longer part of the rescue plan is a measure raising the federal minimum wage requirement to $15 per hour, a move most Democrats have been pursuing for years. A procedural ruling last week said such a wage hike can not be codified into law under budget reconciliation.
The version of the bill passed by the House last week did include the wage increase, meaning the chamber will have to vote again on the version ultimately sent up by the Senate.
ADP and Moody's Analytics said in their monthly report on Wednesday that private-sector businesses added 117,000 jobs during the month of February. While the two monthly reports often differ, sometimes by tens of thousands of jobs, they are generally in agreement in showing the U.S. labor trend over the long term.