CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — U.S. employers added a robust 379,000 jobs in February, the most since October and a sign that the economy is strengthening as confirmed coronavirus cases drop, consumers spend more and states and cities ease business restrictions.
The report Friday from the Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell to 6.2%.
The February gain marked a sharp pickup from the 166,000 jobs that were added in January, following a loss of 306,000 in December. Yet it represents just a fraction of the roughly 10 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic.
Economists are increasingly optimistic that hiring will pick up in the coming months as Americans seize the opportunity to once again travel, shop, attend sporting events and visit movie theaters and restaurants. Households as a whole have accumulated a huge pile of savings after having slashed spending on travel, entertainment and visits to bars and restaurants. Much of that money is expected to be spent once most people feel comfortable about going out.
Friday’s figures, by suggesting that the economy is on the mend, could complicate President Joe Biden’s push for his $1.9 trillion virus relief package, which looks likely to win approval in Congress. It would provide, among other things, $1,400 checks to most adults, an additional $400 in weekly unemployment aid and another round of aid to small businesses. The Senate is set to debate the rescue package Friday.
With so much money being pumped into the economy, Oxford Economics forecasts that growth will reach 7% for all of 2021, which would be the fastest calendar-year expansion since 1984. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the nation will add a substantial 6.2 million jobs this year, though that wouldn’t be nearly enough to restore employment to pre-pandemic levels.
Still, the size of the Biden relief package, coming as the economy is already showing improvement, has stoked fears that growth could overheat and accelerate inflation, sending borrowing costs up and possibly leading the Federal Reserve to jack up interest rates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.