Mar 6, 2020 - Economy & Business

U.S. economy surprises with 273,000 jobs added in February

Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy added 273,000 jobs in February — way more than the 175,000 economists expected — while the unemployment rate dipped to 3.5%, the government said Friday.

Why it matters: The labor market is adding jobs at a breakneck pace, but the numbers don’t take into account the worsening coronavirus outbreak that threatens the record-long stretch of job gains.

By the numbers: Employment was stronger than initially estimated in prior months, too. December and January payrolls were revised higher by a combined 85,000 jobs.

  • Wages grew 3% from the same month last year, a slightly slower pace than in January.

The bottom line: The jobs report surveyed employers and workers before U.S. coronavirus fears escalated. Economists expect employment gains, particularly those seen in the services sector in February, to slow as companies see less demand because of the outbreak.

  • The numbers did little to soothe on-edge investors about the fate of the economy. The stock market pointed to big losses in pre-market morning trading, while the government bond yields plumbed new lows.

Go deeper

Very small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis

Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Small businesses were responsible for the entirety of the 27,000 net jobs that the private sector shed in March, according to a closely watched employment report by payroll provider ADP.

Why it matters: The extent of job losses is much worse than the ADP survey suggests, as it was conducted before states stepped up coronavirus containment efforts. But it shows that America's smallest businesses were hit hardest first, even as bigger corporations continued hiring.

Why March's private jobs report was worse than advertised

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Job losses over the past month have likely been worse than even some of the more extreme economic estimates, and are expected to get worse.

Driving the news: Led by small businesses, U.S. companies cut payrolls by 27,000 in early March, ADP's latest private payrolls report showed Wednesday, in a surge of cuts that predated many municipalities' mandated business closures.

How to understand the nightmare chart

Source: St. Louis Fed; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's the most stunning chart of this crisis yet — the number of people filing for unemployment spiked to 3.3 million last week, a number unprecedented in U.S. history.

Why it matters: This is a picture of what happens when a huge swath of the economy comes to a very sudden stop. But it tells us very little about how bad this recession is turning out to be. We're not going to get useful data on that for another month or so.