Job creation boomed in February by 295,000 despite the brutal winter conditions, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.
Despite the strong month, the picture was essentially the same for the American worker: Pay rose just 3 cents an hour, representing a 2.0 percent annualized gain as wage inflation remained elusive after a big jump in January. The average work week was unchanged at 34.6 hours.
Bars and restaurants represented the biggest growth area, adding 59,000 positions, while professional and business services grew by 51,000. Construction added 29,000 and health care increased 24,000.
The total actually represented a decline from the previous month, which was unrevised at 329,000. December's number fell from 239,000 to 257,000.
Analysts had been expecting the report to show U.S. employers added 240,000 jobs in February. Consensus estimates also saw the unemployment rate ticking down to 5.6 percent from January's 5.7 percent. Job creation had been averaging 266,000 over the previous 12 months.
"The upside surprise should no longer be a surprise because, despite what many pessimists wish to believe, the economy is expanding at a healthy clip and creating high variety jobs again," said Todd Schoenberger at LandColt Capital.