WASHINGTON, March 8 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. nonfarm payroll grew by 236,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down 0.2 of a percentage point to 7.7 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The pace of hiring rose more than forecast and the jobless rate fell to its lowest level since December 2008. Economists had expected the U.S. economy to create about 171,000 jobs and the unemployment rate to hold at 7.9 percent for the month.
The private sector added 246,000 jobs while governments of all levels slashed 10,000 posts in February, the monthly jobs report showed.
Professional and business services, construction and health care were among the sectors which announced big gains in job creation. Employment also continued to trend up in retail and wholesale trade.
The number of unemployed persons edged lower to 12 million. The average workweek for all employees in the private sector edged up by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours.
Part of the decline in the unemployment rate came from a slight drop in the participation rate -- roughly 130,000 people gave up looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.
The Labor Department also revised unemployment data in the previous two months. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for December was revised from 196,000 to 219,000, and the change for January was revised from 157,000 to 119,000. In the prior three months, employment had risen by an average of 195,000 per month.
The government figures showed the U.S. economy created jobs this year even with the fiscal constraints that started in January. The Federal Reserve is trying to drive the unemployment rate down to 6.5 percent. In his semi-annual testimony on monetary policy last week, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers, "consistent with the moderate pace of economic growth, conditions in the labor market have been improving gradually."