Powered by a stronger private sector, the U.S. economy added 236,000 jobs in February, beating the predictions of economists and bringing the unemployment rate down to 7.7%, its lowest level since December 2008.
While the employment increases spanned many sectors, some gains were especially robust. The construction industry, for example, gained 48,000 jobs, signaling that the long-awaited recovery in the housing market may finally be underway. Meanwhile, business services added 73,000 jobs, health care bulked up by 32,000 positions, and information technology increased by 20,000.
February's powerful performance on the job front bested January, when employers hired only 119,000 workers. Last month's gain was also better than the three-month average gain. Still, the news was tempered a bit by future expectations. Economists are forecasting that federal budget cuts now underway will result in a hiring slowdown in April and May. Despite that, some predict the unemployment rate will end the year at 7.5% – compared to the 7.9% at which 2013 began. After hitting a high-point of 10% in October 2009, the unemployment rate fell steadily for three years, and has remained at just below 8% since last September.