WASHINGTON — Employers boosted payrolls more than forecast in February, indicating companies are growing more optimistic about the expansion. The jobless rate held at 8.3 percent.
The 227,000 increase in payrolls followed a revised 284,000 gain in January that was bigger than first estimated, Labor Department figures showed Friday in Washington. Job growth over the past six months was the strongest since 2006. The median projection of economists in a Bloomberg News survey called for a 210,000 rise in February employment.
More jobs are helping fuel the wage gains that drive consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. The latest pickup in employment may not be convincing enough for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who last week said the labor market remains “far from normal,” a sign policymakers continue to see merit in keeping interest rates low for several years.
“Businesses have a bit more confidence about where the recovery is going,” said Omair Sharif, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn. There’s “a little better feeling that demand for their products will hold up for the next six months or so,” he said.
Payroll estimates from 94 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from increases of 125,000 to 275,000 after an initially estimated 243,000 gain the prior month.
Some 1.2 million jobs were created in the last six months, the most since the same period ended in May 2006.
Employment climbed by 428,000 in February, while the labor force rose 476,000.