WASHINGTON, March 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. employers hired more people than expected in February, easing fears of an abrupt economic slowdown, although it was hardly a supporting evidence for the Federal Reserve to wind down its bond purchase program.
Despite the bitterly cold weather, U.S. non-farm payroll increased by 175,000 in February, following a revised 129,000 in January. Market estimated payroll rose by around 150,000, the Labor Department reported on Friday.
Unemployment rate edged up to 6.7 percent from a nearly five year low of 6.6 percent in January.
The labor force participation rate was unchanged at 63 percent from a month ago, but was down 0.5 percentage point from a year ago.
Friday's report came as a set of mixed data showed that the severe weather temporarily disrupted economic activity, and that a significant improvement of the economy still needs a long time to achieve.
With economy gradually improving, the Fed began to scale back its monthly bond purchase program in January. The U.S. central bank has said that it planned to keep its short-term rate low " well past" the time the unemployment rate dropped below 6.5 percent, as long as inflation stayed low.
With the unemployment nearing the 6.5 percent threshold, the Fed became more cautious, as officials said on different occasions that the economic outlook would have to change significantly for the central bank to wind down bond purchases in a series of measured steps this year.
The number of long-term unemployed, or jobless for 27 weeks or more, increased by 203,000 in February to 3.8 million, accounting for 37 percent of the unemployed.
The Labor Department said the unusually severe weather is more likely to have an impact on average weekly hours than on employment, and would typically result in a reduction in average weekly hours.