Employers Add 97,000 Jobs in February as Unemployment Rate Dips to 4.5 Percent

The U.S. economy added a slightly weaker-than-expected 97,000 jobs in February, the smallest gain in more than two years, as increases in service-sector employment offset declines in construction and manufacturing, a government report showed on Friday.

However, substantial revisions to employment in January and December boosted payrolls by 55,000 more jobs than previously reported, the Labor Department said.

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Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting the economy to add 100,000 jobs outside of the farming sector in February.

It was the smallest monthly rise since a gain of 95,000 in January 2005, the Labor Department said.

The unemployment rate edged down to 4.5 percent from 4.6 percent. Analysts were expecting the jobless rate to hold steady at 4.6 percent.

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics revised job gains up to 146,000 in January and to 226,000 in December.

Construction employment fell by 62,000 in February, probably prompted by cold and stormy weather in much of the country, the government said. Manufacturing employment shed 14,000 positions.

Health care, which accounted for one in six jobs added to U.S. payrolls in the last 12 months, added 33,000 jobs in February, the government said.

Average hourly earnings rose by 6 cents, or 0.4 percent, in February. Analysts were expecting earnings to rise by 0.3 percent.

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