The nation's jobless rate also dropped more than expected. The surprisingly strong jobs report could entice the Fed to consider hiking rates in June. Fred Katayama reports.
A surprisingly strong employment report: The U.S. added 295,000 jobs last month, accelerating over January 257,000 gain. It marked the 12th straight month of job increases over 200,000. The jobless rate dropped more than expected to 5.5 percent. Wage growth was measly, up just 1/10 percent after a big jump in January. That's a key number Federal Reserve officials have been eyeing as they judge whether the economy is growing fast enough to raise interest rates. Job gains were widespread, led by hiring at restaurants and bars and professional services. But the drop in crude prices and the cutbacks in spending by oil companies cut mining employment by 9,000. And growth in manufacturing slowed. The cold weather didn't play a big factor. The construction sector added 29,000 jobs, albeit at a slower pace than in January. And hours worked didn't change. The strong report could entice the Fed to consider raising interest rates in June. But PNC Financial Services senior macroeconomist Gus Faucher sees the Fed moving in the third quarter. (SOUNDBITE) GUS FAUCHER, SENIOR MACROECONOMIST, PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I don't think this changes the time table very much. I think what the Fed is really looking for at this point is the stronger wage growth. We had a glimmer of that in January, faded somewhat in February. I do think we will see stronger wage growth. And if that's the case, if it looks like inflation is stabilizing as well with gasoline prices now on the rebound, I think the Fed will be ready to move in third quarter of 2015, but what's most important for that is what happens to wages, what happens to inflation." Fed policy makers meet in mid-March. Economists will be watching to see if their statement will drop the word "patient" in considering a rate hike.