By Vicki Needham - 03/07/14 08:34 AM EST
The economy added 175,000 jobs in February, a stronger than expected showing after two weak months in a row.
The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent, according to the report issued Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The past two months of disappointing data had raised questions about whether the economy was slowing down, or whether cold weather was holding the numbers back. Friday's stronger report may give confidence to the Federal Reserve that it can continue slowing its stimulus for the economy.
The figures will also play into the congressional debate ahead of the midterm elections.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the numbers should prompt President Obama to urge Senate Democrats to pass the House GOP's jobs plan.
“While it’s good news that more Americans found work last month, there are still far too many asking the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’ " Boehner said. "They have been waiting more than five years for an answer from this president, and all he has offered is a disastrous health law that’s raising costs, hurting seniors, and making it harder for small businesses to hire."
Obama has been pressing Congress to raise the minimum wage. He also offered a budget this week that puts deficit reduction in the backseat in favor of several spending measures the White House argues would benefit the economy.
Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said Friday that Obama will urge Congress to act on his proposals in the budget released this week but added that “he will also continue to take action on his own wherever possible to support job growth and expand economic opportunity.”
The report showed the economy added 84,000 jobs in December compared to the 75,000 previously forecast, and 129,000 in January instead of 113,000.
The construction sector added 15,000 jobs, while the number of long-term unemployed increased by 203,000 in February to 3.8 million.
Another measure of unemployment, referred to as the U-6, fell to 12.6 percent from 12.7 in February.
The measure includes a broader spectrum of workers — the total unemployed, marginally attached workers and the underemployed.
Despite the acceleration in jobs growth, some economists argue that the economy is still moving along at a sluggish rate.
A White House analysis showed that several sectors — professional and business services and state and local governments — helped boost February growth.
Professional and business services added 55,000 jobs, the third best month in the past four years while state and local governments hired 19,000 workers, one of the strongest figures in the past four years.
Manufacturing edged up 6,000 and has added 83,000 jobs over the last seven months.
Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's Analytics, said the job numbers were encouraging and suggest that the economy is holding its own despite the bad weather.
“Weather did have an impact as it crimped the job gains, and more significantly, reduced hours worked,” he said.
Still, underlying jobs growth is around 200,000 and Zandi said he expects to see those figures rise this spring as warmer temperatures take over.
This story was updated at 10:49 a.m.