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US Job Growth Likely Rose in February  03/05 06:15

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's employers likely stepped up their hiring in 
February as confirmed viral cases declined, consumers spent big chunks of their 
government aid checks and the economy appeared to be sustaining a tentative 
recovery.

   Economists have forecast that job growth reached 175,000 last month, 
according to data provider FactSet. That would mark a sharp improvement over an 
average of just 29,000 jobs a month from November through January.

   Yet with the nation still 10 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level, 
monthly hiring would need to significantly accelerate to bring relief to the 
many people who remain laid off, especially at restaurants, hotels, 
entertainment venues and other areas of the hospitality industry that are far 
from recovered. The unemployment rate is predicted to have ticked up from 6.3% 
to 6.4% on the assumption that more Americans started looking for work in 
February and began to be counted as unemployed.

   One year into the pandemic, most analysts are growing more optimistic that 
hiring will accelerate in the coming months, with the economy strengthening and 
gauges of consumer spending and manufacturing rising. Americans as a whole have 
accumulated a huge pile of savings after having slashed spending on travel, 
movie tickets and visits to bars and restaurants. Much of that money is 
expected to be spent once most people feel comfortable about going out.

   And nearly all of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion economic rescue 
package looks likely to win approval in Congress in the coming weeks. It would 
provide, among other things, $1,400 relief checks to most adults, an additional 
$400 in weekly unemployment aid and another round of aid to small businesses.

   With so much money being pumped into the economy, Oxford Economics now 
forecasts that growth will reach 7% for all of 2021, which would be the fastest 
calendar-year expansion since 1984. The Congressional Budget Office projects 
that the nation will add a substantial 6.2 million jobs this year, though that 
wouldn't be nearly enough to restore employment to pre-pandemic levels.

   Still, the size of the Biden relief package, coming as the economy is 
already showing improvement, has stoked fears that growth could overheat and 
spur higher inflation, send borrowing costs up and lead the Federal Reserve to 
jack up interest rates. Those fears have roiled financial markets  for the past 
two weeks.

   Fed Chair Jerome Powell sought to assuage those concerns on Thursday --- 
without success, based on sharp selloffs in the stock and bond markets --- when 
he suggested that any meaningful rise in inflation would likely prove temporary 
and that the Fed would be in no hurry to raise its benchmark short-term rate.

   Nor did Powell offer any hint that the Fed would act to push back against a 
surge in the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which has jumped from about 
0.9% last year to 1.5% late Thursday. Still, Powell sounded some optimistic 
notes. Citing in part the increasing distribution and administering of 
coronavirus vaccines, he said, "There's good reason to expect job creation to 
pick up in the coming months."

   Other recent economic reports have also suggested better times ahead. 
Americans sharply increased their spending at retail stores and restaurants in 
January, when the $600 relief checks were mostly distributed. Retail sales 
jumped 5.3%, after three months of declines.

   Factory output also picked up that month, and demand  for long-lasting 
goods, such as autos and aircraft, rose 3.4%, the government said last week.

   Home sales have been on a tear for most of the past year, driven by low 
mortgage rates and the desire of many Americans for more space during the 
pandemic. A huge jump in the proportion of people working from home has also 
driven up sales, which were nearly 24% higher in January than a year earlier.  




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