WASHINGTON – America's job market delivered a burst of strength in February. It lifted hopes that the rollout of viral vaccines, the distribution of federal aid and the increasing willingness and ability of consumers to go out and spend will invigorate the economy as the weather warms up.
Employers added 379,000 jobs, the government said Friday, the most since October and far surpassing economists' predictions. The unemployment rate, which dipped to 6.2%, has now dropped nearly every month since it peaked at 14.8% in April of last year after the pandemic erupted in the United States and inflicted breathtaking job losses.
Shut down for much of last year, the economy has been gradually reopening as more people are vaccinated and fewer are being infected. The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases has dropped to an average below 60,000 a day from nearly 250,000 in early January, according to Johns Hopkins University.
A government aid package late last year also delivered $600 checks to most adults, coming on top of an even bigger economic rescue last spring. President Joe Biden is seeking to give households yet another boost with a $1.9 trillion relief package that would add benefits for the unemployed and send $1,400 to most families.
“Improving health conditions, expanding vaccine distribution and generous fiscal stimulus will form a powerful cocktail that lifts real (economic) growth to 7% in 2021,’’ reversing last year’s 3.5% drop, Gregory Daco and Lydia Boussour of Oxford Economics said in a research note. They expect the economy to add an average of roughly 580,000 jobs a month this year.
Here are five takeaways from the February jobs report:
No area of the economy endured more devastation from the pandemic recession than the leisure and hospitality sector. Now, as more bars, restaurants and hotels reopen to fuller capacity, this industry has been regaining many of its lost jobs.