WASHINGTON — The nation's unemployment rate dropped a notch to 7.3% in February from 7.4% in January as women and teen-agers found more jobs in the service industries, the government said today.
But factory workers--particularly those in auto plants--suffered major setbacks, as did black workers.
(Unemployment in the Los Angeles-Orange County area fell sharply, to 6.7% from January's 8%, for the lowest rate since August, 1981. In California, the rate also fell to 6.7% from 7.3% the month before.)
Of the 115.1 million people in the nation's work force in February, 8.4 million were looking for jobs, the Labor Department said.
'Equal to the Highest'
White House spokesman Larry Speakes, noting that 300,000 people were added to the employment rolls, said, "This means that the total percent of our adult population at work is over 60%, equal to the highest employment peak in our history."
The figure tied the high mark of 60.1% set during the Carter Administration in December, 1979.
However the unemployment rate was lower--7.1%--as recently as November and has averaged about 7.4% for the last 10 months.
Factory workers lost 75,000 jobs in February, 25,000 of them in the auto industry. That was about 10% of the auto jobs restored since the end of the last recession 27 months ago.
Construction Job Loss
Construction workers also were hard hit in February, apparently by particularly bad weather, losing 50,000 jobs.
The February unemployment rate for black workers shot up to 16.3% from January's 14.9%.
Last month's 300,000 new jobs were mostly in retailing, insurance, real estate and finance.
Of all adult women, 50.8% had paying jobs in February, a proportion that now routinely sets new record highs almost every month.
The unemployment rate for women slipped to 6.7% from 6.8%, while the rate for men stayed at 6.3%.
More Long-Term Jobless
The jobless rate for teen-agers dropped by half a percentage point to 18.4%.
The figures also revealed that the number of long-term unemployed is increasing. There were 2.4 million workers out of a job for 15 weeks or more in February, an increase of 175,000. This has special significance this month because more than 300,000 people face a cutoff of their government jobless benefits at month's end if Congress does not act to continue a special benefit program instituted during the depths of the 1981-82 recession.
The unemployment rate for black teen-agers, like that for black men, showed substantial deterioration, going up a full percentage point to 43.1%. But the rate for white teen-agers improved by 0.6 of a percentage point to 15.2%.
Latino workers also saw major improvement to a jobless rate of 9.7% from January's 10.6%.