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Here's where the jobs are — in one chart

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Key Points
  • The February 2021 jobs report blew past expectations thanks to a sharp rebound in restaurant and food service hiring.
  • The Labor Department reported Friday that payrolls rose by 379,000 in February. The unemployment rate edged down to 6.2%.
  • The battered leisure and hospitality sector, which includes hotels and restaurants, saw the largest gain by far at 355,000 added.
  • Though entertainment venues like galleries and casinos did see hiring, food service contributed the vast majority of those gains with net hiring of 285,900.

The number of jobs added to U.S. payrolls in February blew past expectations thanks to a sharp rebound in restaurant and food service hiring that had swooned throughout the winter.

The Labor Department reported Friday that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 379,000 in February 2021 as businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector hired workers in droves. The unemployment rate edged down to 6.2%.

The increase in total payroll employment was better than the net gain of 210,000 that economists surveyed by Dow Jones had forecast.

CNBC studied the net changes by industry for February jobs based on data contained in the employment report.

The battered leisure and hospitality sector, which includes hotels, museums, resorts, restaurants and amusement parks, saw the largest net gain by far for the month at 355,000 jobs added. Though entertainment venues like galleries and casinos did see some hiring, food service contributed the vast majority of the gains with net hiring of 285,900.

This subindustry, which includes waiters, cooks and bartenders, has seen some of the most volatile employment changes over the last 12 months as Covid-19 and efforts to contain its spread forced eateries to close, adopt atypical dining protocols or lay off workers.

A New York City waiter wears a face mask at a restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Nov. 10, 2020.
Noam Galai | Getty Images

With the deployment of coronavirus vaccines accelerating and warmer weather on the way, some economists said the February jobs report is enough to feel more optimistic about the trajectory of the U.S. economy.

"Today's employment report smashed expectations. This was a welcomed change of events for a suppressed labor market as we begin to turn the helm on a restrained economy and open back up." Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management, wrote in an email.

"Looking ahead, it appears the ship is pointed in the right direction and the additional stimulus coming from Congress should be the wind in the sails to get the economy back on track," he added.

Still, many noted that the labor market has a long way to go before reaching the same employment figures seen before the Covid-19 recession.

And, for all the strength seen at restaurants and bars over the last month, other industries posted far more modest numbers or even declined. Government and construction, for example, lost 86,000 and 61,000 net positions, respectively.

Though both numbers are expected to rebound as the economy recovers — and better weather allows for more construction — Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao writes that the economy would need to add almost 1 million jobs a month for the rest of 2021 to return to pre-crisis levels by the end of the year.

"That rate of recovery is a tall order at this point in the pandemic, but is not completely out of the question once the economy can safely and fully reopen," he wrote Friday morning. "While the February report's pace would be considered above average pre-pandemic, it feels marred by the deep hole of 9.5 million jobs that remains in the middle of the economy."

Elsewhere, manufacturing added 21,000 jobs and retail posted a gain of 41,100. Health care and social assistance notched 45,600 and professional and business services rose 63,000.

CNBC's Nate Rattner contributed reporting.