The unemployment rate, derived from a separate survey of households, was forecast to hold at 7.9%, according to the Bloomberg survey median. The decline reflected both a gain in employment and an increase in people leaving the labor force.
The participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people in the labor force, dropped to 63.5%, matching the lowest since September 1981, from 63.6%.
Today’s report showed factories added 14,000 workers in February, compared with a projected 9,000 advance and following a 12,000 increase in the previous month.
Auto manufacturing, reflecting car and truck sales running close to the best pace in five years, may lead to more factory hiring in coming months. Chrysler Group LLC, the automaker majority owned by Fiat SpA, will invest about $374 million and add 1,250 positions at Indiana factories to boost output of eight- and nine-speed transmissions. Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne disclosed the investment in February.
Employment at private service-providers jumped 179,000 last month, today’s report showed. Construction companies added 48,000 workers, reflecting a 17,100 gain in payrolls at residential trade contractors. Retailers took on 23,700 employees.
A recovery in house prices and a need to increase the supply of homes for sale has stirred construction activity and benefited home-improvement retailers.
Home Depot Inc. said last month it plans to add more than 80,000 temporary employees ahead of its busiest season, about 14% more than a year ago, as the rebound spurs spending on remodeling and landscaping. Lowe’s Cos. said in January it would take on 45,000 seasonal workers, 13% more than a year earlier, and add 9,000 permanent employees.