U.S. employers extended a healthy streak of hiring in February by adding 295,000 jobs, the 12th straight monthly gain above 200,000.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent from 5.7 percent. But the decline in the rate occurred largely because some people out of work stopped looking for jobs and were no longer counted as unemployed.

The strong job gains weren't enough to boost wages by much. The average hourly wage rose just 3 cents to $24.78 an hour in February.

Over the past year, 3.3 million more Americans have gotten jobs. More jobs and lower gas prices have led many consumers to step up spending. That's boosting the economy, offsetting sluggish economies overseas and giving employers the confidence to hire.