US jobs report: Economy adds 273K jobs, unemployment at 3.5 percent

The American economy added 273,000 jobs in February, the feds said Friday, indicating strong hiring growth before the coronavirus outbreak slammed the US.

The Department of Labor’s monthly jobs report far outpaced economists’ expectations that non-farm payrolls would grow by 175,000 jobs. The unemployment rate ticked back down to 3.5 percent, matching a 50-year low.

While the latest numbers show the deadly coronavirus epidemic has not yet hammered the labor market, the worst may be yet to come as the outbreak reduces travel, disrupts supply chains and roils the stock market. The virus started to spread in the US late last month and has since killed 12 people and infected more than 200 here.

The February figures “provide a snapshot of the state of the labor market before the virus-related damage kicks in, presumably starting in March and intensifying into the second quarter,” Bloomberg economists Carl Riccadonna, Yelena Shulyatyeva and Andrew Husby wrote in a Friday commentary.

The Federal Reserve suggested the coronavirus could threaten the economy when it cut its benchmark interest rate Tuesday, saying the disease “poses evolving risks to economic activity.”

In another good sign for the labor market, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 216,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That number doesn’t indicate that companies are starting to lay off workers amid the coronavirus crisis, according to Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank.

“But we cannot sound the all-clear signal either because the total number of people on the jobless rolls continuing to receive unemployment compensation remains somewhat elevated despite the strongest economy in fifty years,” Rupkey said in a Thursday note. “That’s not right.”

With Post wires

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