Payrolls Up 192K Last Month; Unemployment Drops to 8.9%

U.S. employers hired more workers in February than in any month since May last year and the unemployment rate fell to a near two-year low, raising hopes the economic recovery has gathered critical momentum.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 192,000, the Labor Department said on Friday, above market expectations for 185,000 jobs.

Data for December and January was revised to show 58,000 more jobs created than previously estimated.

The peak of monthly employment last May was when payrolls were being boosted by government hiring for a census.

The unemployment rate dipped to 8.9%, the lowest since April 2009, from 9.0% in January as more people reported finding work.

"We have moved into the expansion phase of the economic cycle and the economy is self-sustaining," said Brian Levitt, an economist at OppenheimerFunds in New York.

Still, February's bounce in employment after payrolls were depressed by extreme weather in January is unlikely to sway the Federal Reserve from its ultra-easy monetary policies.

"This is an on par reading, enough to satisfy those who were looking for a stronger number, but not enough to placate those who were looking for something well ahead of consensus to make up for the weather-related weakness last month. This is indicative of decent momentum in economic growth. It will be enough to make a dent in unemployment, though job creation isn't growing fast enough to lower the rate quickly."