Unemployment rate unchanged as 36K jobs lost

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The unemployment rate held at 9.7 percent in February as
employers shed 36,000 jobs, fewer than expected. The figures suggested the job
market is slowly healing but that significant hiring has yet to occur.

The Labor Department said it wouldn’t quantify how the snowstorms that hammered
the East Coast last month affected job losses. Some data in the report signaled
the storms didn’t reduce payrolls as much as had been feared.

Economists had estimated that the storms could inflate job losses by 100,000 or
more. That would mean the economy generated a net gain in jobs last month,
excluding the impact of the snow, for only the second time since the recession
began in December 2007.

The department revised its estimate of job losses for January from 20,000 to
26,000.

Hiring for the 2010 Census accounted for 15,000 jobs, the department said. The
government expects to hire 1 million temporary census workers this year.

Many economists predicted the snowstorms would artificially inflate job losses.
The storms occurred in the week that the government surveys businesses about
their payrolls. Employees who couldn’t make it to work and weren’t paid aren’t
included on those payrolls.

But many industries that economists thought might be hardest hit _
construction, retail, and hotels and restaurants _ didn’t seem to be heavily
affected. The construction industry lost 64,000 jobs, compared with an average
of about 40,000 in the previous three months. Retail employment was flat and
the leisure and hospitality industry posted a net gain of 7,000 jobs, the first
increase since September.

The unemployment rate, which hasn’t risen since October, could be bottoming
out. Still, 14.9 million Americans are unemployed, nearly double the total when
the recession began, and the economy has shed 8.4 million jobs during that time.

Including people who have given up on their job searches or are working
part-time but would prefer full-time work, the so-called “underemployment” rate
rose to 16.8 percent from 16.5 percent last month. That reflects a jump in the
number of involuntary part-time workers. The figure is below October’s all-time
high of 17.4 percent

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