The U.S. labor markets turned in one of the best monthly performances of the last 12 months in February, adding 236,000 jobs and paring the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent in a report Friday that heightens concerns about the divide between a sluggish state recovery and rising momentum across the nation.
The national gains, reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, include strong job additions in construction as housing markets recover. Government jobs, as expected, continued to shrink.
Forecasters had predicted a gain in the range of 160,000 added jobs with a decline of one-tenth of a percent in the jobless rate, which was at 7.9 percent in January.
Connecticut is two months behind in reporting because of the upcoming revision of 2012 data, which is expected next week. Preliminary figures show that Connecticut’s economy did not add jobs in 2012, though the state Department of Labor said the revisions will show some gains, perhaps significantly. Unemployment remains at 8.6 percent in Connecticut, after a 2012 that saw the rate fall, then rise during the summer as the national rate declined.
For now, the Federal Reserve remains committed to propping up the economy by injecting cash in an effort to keep interest rates down. The danger for Connecticut is that a U.S. turnaround could bring higher borrowing rates, especially for mortgages, which would quell a weaker recovery here.
Friday’s report, based on separate surveys of households and businesses, showed a decline in the number of people who were out of work but actively looking for jobs, by 300,000, to 12 million. There has been some concern that falling unemployment in 2012 was due to people giving up the search — and therefore not counting officially as unemployed. Friday’s report showed real job gains in the household survey as well as the business survey, though it also showed a continued decline in the number of jobless people looking for work.
In the business survey, construction dded 48,000 jobs, by far the strongest sector, as the much larger health and social services sector added 39,000 jobs. Manufacturing continued to show slow but steady progress, adding 14,000 jobs.
Connecticut is due to report February results later this month after reporting January results as part of the 2012 revisions next week. The concern in this state is that some large employers, especially in insurance and financial services, are shedding jobs as part of long-term cost-cutting efforts — most recently MetLife, which is consolidating work to North Carolina and is likely to move some of its 2,000 Bloomfield jobs as part of that.
Connecticut is also vulnerable to defense cuts, part of the federal sequester as well as an orderly decline in Pentagon spending that was already underway in 2012 before the meltdown between Congress and Obama.