Economy adds 236,000 jobs, unemployment falls to 7.7 percent

The economy added 236,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent, its lowest level during President Obama's presidency. 

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The report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests job growth is picking up in the private sector as Washington braces for $85 billion in automatic spending cuts and the furloughing of thousands of workers. 

The White House has warned those cuts will harm the economy, though Obama has scaled back his rhetoric over the last week and now says they will not be the apocalypse. 

Obama is now seeking to work with congressional Republicans on a deficit-reduction package he hopes could be reached in July, near the time the nation's debt ceiling will have to be raised.

White House Council of Economic Adviser Chairman Alan Krueger said the figures provides evidence that the recovery that began in mid-2009 is gaining traction. He called on Republicans to pass a responsible budget that included ending some tax breaks, reforming entitlements and cutting spending. 

Republicans characterized the report as good news that showed progress, but argued more needs to be done. 

"While this is a positive development, we still have a long way to go," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized Republicans for allowing the automatic spending cuts to go forward, which she argued would hurt the economy. 

"Our economic growth is now threatened by the indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts caused by Republican obstruction," Pelsoi said in a statement. 

Cantor said Republicans will bring a bill to the floor next week that would authorize several worker retraining programs. The bill is intended to show that Republicans are interested in moving legislation that will help workers find jobs, and that their goals go beyond cutting government spending. 

The BLS report revised figures for the last two months, showing more jobs were created in December than previously estimated, but fewer were created in January. In December, the economy added 219,000 jobs, up from the 196,000 initially forecast. 

In January, the economy added 119,000, down from the 157,000 initially forecast. 

In the last three months the economy has added an average of 195,000 jobs per month. 

At 7.7 percent, the jobless rate is lower than it has been since December 2008, when it stood at 7.3 percent. Job losses accelerated at that point as the recession hit the nation hard. 

Private-sector job creation was 246,000 in February, while the economy shed 10,000 government jobs. 

Despite the 0.2 percentage point drop in the jobless rate, as a whole, 12 million people are still unemployed. There are still about 4.8 million long-term unemployed, representing 40.2 percent of all jobless workers. 

In a sign that the housing market is getting stronger, employment in construction increased by 48,000. Employment also increased in professional and business services and healthcare.

Manufacturing added 14,000 last month and has added 39,000 since November. 

This story was posted at 8:34 a.m. and updated at 10:03 a.m.