WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy kept churning out new service jobs in February to hold the unemployment rate at 6.7% for the third straight month, the government said today, but most of them went to married women whose husbands have lost nearly 190,000 jobs in the last two months.
In all, the economy created 370,000 jobs last month, according to a Labor Department survey of households, and 290,000 married women joined or rejoined the work force.
Added to the gains in previous months, nearly 1.2 million Americans have found work since October. The proportion of the civilian population at work edged to a record 61.2% last month, the department said.
Over the last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said, the nation's work force has added 2.2 million people, with adult women accounting for nearly three out of five new jobholders or job-seekers.
The greatest job gains last month were in retail trade, with 130,000 jobs created. Nearly half of the growth was in department and general merchandise stores.
Service employment rose by 115,000 jobs, with large gains in business and health services. Factory employment grew 50,000 after a gain of only 3,000 in January.
"But most of the increase represented the return to work of people who had been involved in labor-management disputes," said Janet L. Norwood, the commissioner of labor statistics, in remarks to the congressional Joint Economic Committee.
She was referring to the end of a lockout at USX by steelworkers and the end of strikes in the machinery industry.
The number of Americans listed as officially unemployed fell 56,000 to 7,967,000 in February, only the second month in the last 5 1/2 years that that number has dipped below 8 million.
In December, the number had dropped to 7.95 million. But it jumped back to just over 8 million in January.
The number of jobholders reached a record 113,122,000 last month. More people are working part time, however, because they cannot find full-time jobs, today's report said. The number of people working part time for economic reasons jumped 275,000 to 5,780,000.
Norwood said blacks have been entering the labor force at almost twice the rate of whites in the last year. But she did not say what portion had found work.
The labor force growth rate among Latinos is even greater, she said.
The jobless rate for Latino workers fell a full percentage point in February, to 9.6%, roughly midway between the 14.3% black jobless rate and the 5.7% white jobless rate.
The number of married women at work has risen 1.1 million over the last year to 27.8 million. Since December, that number has jumped more than 400,000 while employment among married men has fallen 190,000.