U.S. Economy Adds Surprising Number of New Jobs in February — Retail Tacks on 50,000

The U.S. economy added 313,000 jobs last month, besting analyst expectations, while the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent for the fifth consecutive month, according to a report released on Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The favorable economic news gave an immediate jolt to Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up by more than 250 points in the first two hours of trading.

While employment numbers were strong across most industries, retail in particular was among the healthiest segments, adding 50,000 jobs in February. Within the retail industry, 18,000 jobs were added to general merchandise stores, while clothing and clothing accessories doors tacked on 15,000 workers.

Retail and business services tied for second place in terms of job growth, trailing only the construction industry, which added 61,000 new positions.

An encouraging development is that there was not an expected drop in retail workers in February, when stores traditionally shed the staff hired during the holiday season.

The jobs numbers come at a time when retail is facing steep challenges from digital shifts in consumer shopping habits and a consistent number of store closings. It is the second month in a row that the jobs numbers improved.

The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in January, with the unemployment rate holding at 4.1 percent. That number topped Wall Street expectations of 180,000.

Across industries, wages rose slightly for February, with average hourly earnings inching up 4 cents to $26.75.

The healthy news comes the same day department store Neiman Marcus reported that its second-quarter revenues rose 6.2 percent to $1.48 billion, from $1.4 billion a year earlier.

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