Unemployment rate falls to four-year low

WASHINGTON — The nation’s unemployment rate fell in February to a new four-year low of 7.7 percent as employers added a stronger-than-expected 236,000 jobs over the month, thanks in good part to the rebounding housing market.

The Labor Department said Friday that the new jobless rate, which declined from 7.9 percent in January, was the lowest since December 2008, when the unemployment figure was 7.3 percent.

Although some of the rate drop was the result of workers leaving the labor force, the improvement reflected solid job gains across a broad swath of industries. Growth was led by the construction sector, which added 48,000 jobs last month — the most in a single month since March 2007.

The strengthening housing market also gave a lift to other sectors: Employment in financial services benefited from the addition of nearly 9,000 new jobs at real estate and leasing offices. Furniture makers and retailers also bulked up, as did architectural and engineering services.

Health care businesses and restaurants continued to expand at a strong pace.

Government employment, on the other hand, dropped by 10,000 jobs, as state and local offices cut back. Federal payrolls were flat.

Many analysts are expecting the fiscal spending cuts under the so-called sequestration to slow job growth in the coming months, but there was little hint of that in Friday’s report.

January’s job growth number was revised lower, to 119,000 from 157,000 initially estimated. But most of that was offset by changes in December’s payrolls, which were revised up to 219,000 from 196,000 previously reported.

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