More Americans found jobs and bought new cars in February. But a steep spike in oil prices could weaken what so far has been a sluggish recovery.
The unemployment rate dropped to 8.9% last month, the lowest in almost two years, according to a new report by the Labor Department. The economy added 192,000 jobs in February, including a marked increase in the number of private sector jobs.
Previous decreases in the jobless rate were led by big jumps in government jobs. But last month states and local governments cut 30,000 jobs in response to their budget woes. Private employers, meanwhile, added 222,000 jobs.
“Today’s numbers highlight steady, sustained and widespread job growth,” Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in a press release.
Consumers also returned to the auto market in a big way, buying more than a million cars in February, a 6% jump over January’s sales figures, according to a report by Econoday.com. Cars significantly outperformed trucks “in what is a visible reaction to high gas prices,” the website found.
That was a pretty smart reaction. Driven largely by unrest in the Middle East, gas prices shot up by a national average of 35 cents a gallon since mid-February, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.
On Monday Feb. 25, the average national gas price shot up six cents, “the fifth largest one day price increase in the last decade,” the auto club said in a press release.
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Image: Daniel Oines