The U.S. jobless rate held steady at 8.3 percent in February after falling for five straight months, the Labor Department said March 9.
The economy created another 227,000 new jobs, topping the the 200,000 mark for the third straight month -- not enough to pull the unemployment rate lower, but good enough to keep it at its three-year low as growth eased after 2011's peppy fourth quarter.
The overall official number of unemployed held at 12.8 million, little changed from the previous month.
Hiring was broad-based and came entirely from the private sector as government layoffs continued around the country.
But the number of net government layoffs was also low, just 6,000, suggesting spending cuts by authorities at the federal and local level were beginning to slow as well.
Job creation numbers for the previous two months were revised higher, putting the three month average at 245,000 net new jobs per month, sharply above the 2011 12-month average of 153,000.
In another sign of the underlying strength of the economy, the overall participation rate in the jobs market picked up to 63.9 percent, and the employment-population ratio also rose.
Those figures underscored that the fall in the jobless rate was coming from new positions being created rather than people dropping out of the jobs market altogether, as was the case during part of 2011.
The slowdown in job creation from the previous two months was no surprise: analysts had expected a dip in the rate of economic growth after the peppy pickup to 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.
Economists were overall cheered by the new numbers, which though down from January outpaced forecasts.
"U.S. economy watchers can breathe a sigh of relief for now as employment growth... exceeded expectations and the economy created enough jobs to absorb re-entrants into the labor market," said John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros at RDQ Economics.
"The employment gains appeared broad-based with manufacturing and business services showing particularly encouraging gains," they said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012