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March 12, 2001
Unemployment rate holds steady
The
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unemployment rate held steady at 4.2 percent in February, according to numbers released by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics late last week.

Total employment rose by 135,000. Large job losses continued in manufacturing, where employment declined by 94,000. Employment gains in several other industries, including services, accounted for the net increase in payroll employment.

Average hourly earnings rose by 7 cents over the month.

"Since early last fall, the growth in payroll employment has slackened," Katharine G. Abraham, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress Friday.

"In the 5 months since September, the average monthly increase in payroll employment has been 103,000," she said. "In contrast, during the first 9 months of last year, payroll employment had grown by 187,000 a month, on average."

"The key features of the February data, in my view, are the continued reduction in manufacturing employment and hours, the more-than-offsetting job gains in services and some other industries, and the over-the-month rise in average hourly earnings," she told members of Congress.

"Today's report of February's unemployment level remaining unchanged from January at 4.2 percent demonstrates a continuing sign that the economic crystal ball is still cloudy," Employment Policy Foundation Chief Economist Ron Bird said Friday. "The job market continues to give mixed signals - some pointing toward recession and some not."

Bird pointed out that although the economy has slowed down, it is still creating new jobs: data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there was a 135,000 increase in February in the number of workers in the U.S., rising to a total 132.2 million workers, another historical record. Each of the last six months has set a new all-time high for total non-agricultural wage payroll employment, he said.

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