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The labor force participation rate, which measures how many adults are working or looking for work as a share of the adult population, rose in February for the first time since last August.
The rate came in at 63.9 percent, up from 63.7 in January, the lowest since 1983. It had fallen gradually for two years — even after the worst layoffs of the recession were finished, as people continued to give up looking for work.
A measure of all unemployed and the so-called underemployed — people who are working part-time but would rather by working full-time — fell to 14.9 percent, the lowest the three years.
That figure includes three groups: the part-time workers who want full-time work, people who are unemployed and looking for work and people who are unemployed and have stopped looking.
Other economic indicators have improved markedly in recent weeks. Consumer confidence in February was the highest in a year, and applications for unemployment benefits, the best measure of the pace of layoffs, have averaged 355,000 a week, near a four-year low.
Wages are still rising only modestly. Average hourly pay increased by 3 cents in February to $23.31. In the past year, it has gone up only 1.9 percent, trailing the rate of inflation.
The factors restraining the U.S. economy seem to be easing, or at least less damaging than they used to be. Greece has struck a deal to get an international bailout and avoid a default later this month that could have rattled the world financial system.
And while the price of gas has crept up almost every day for a month, and is the highest on record for this time of year, that has less of a bite when the economy is growing and people feel more confident.
Another strong month of hiring makes it less likely that the Federal Reserve will take additional steps to help the economy at its meeting next week.
But it makes it more likely that the economy can continue a pattern known as a virtuous cycle — a reinforcing loop in which stronger hiring leads to more consumer spending, which leads to even more hiring and spending.
"Overall, another very strong payroll report and there’s every chance that March will bring more of the same," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics, an economic research company.
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