Ahead of coronavirus impact, economy added 273,000 jobs for February

Data for the February jobs report was collected before the coronavirus epidemic hit the U.S.
Image: Jobs
Job seekers line up to speak to recruiters during an Amazon job fair in Dallas on Sept. 17, 2019LM Otero / AP file

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By Lucy Bayly

The economy gained 273,000 jobs in February, well above economist predictions, according to monthly employment data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The February jobs report, which includes data collected before the coronavirus epidemic hit the U.S., also shows the unemployment rate fell from 3.6 percent to 3.5 percent. Wage growth ticked up slightly to 3 percent for the year, still a modest rate in a robust economy.

Markets barely blinked Friday morning, despite the healthy monthly figures, with traders continuing to focus on how the viral outbreak could hammer the economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is set to open with a decline of around 700 points.

While the government’s monthly employment snapshot does not include any virus-related numbers, this could be a question of the "calm before the storm,” economists predicted. Future months are expected to show just how much the viral outbreak has dinged the economy.

Coronavirus has already created havoc on Wall Street since the first cases were reported in the U.S., with the Dow falling by over 1,000 points twice in the past two weeks, the yield on government Treasury bonds dropping to an all-time low of 0.7 percent today, and the Federal Reserve stepping in on Tuesday to implement an emergency rate cut of half a percentage point. Some economists even predict the epidemic could push the country into a recession.

“We expect the impact on employment in coming months to be modest and focused on service sectors like leisure and hospitality and air transportation,” Veronica Clark, an economist at Citigroup, told Reuters. “There may also be weaker job creation in manufacturing, should supply-chain issues or weaker external demand cause the sector to slow.”

The BLS also revised up employment figures for the last two months, with January increasing from 225,000 to 273,000; and December going from 147,000 to 184,000. The economy needs to add around 100,000 jobs each month to keep pace with the working population.

Regardless of any coronavirus impact, declines are expected in the jobs number going forward. As the labor market tightens, there are fewer workers looking for a job.