The United States economy created 227,000 new jobs in February, surpassing analyst expectations for a gain of just over 200,000 and capping off the strongest three-month showing since the recession began in 2008.
Despite the gains, the unemployment rate remained steady because a large number of people who had left the workforce returned to look for work and were once again recorded as unemployed in the official data.
The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics reported Friday that the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 per cent, its lowest level in three years. The bureau also revised the data from December and January higher, showing job gains came in 61,000 above where they were initially reported.
On average, the world's largest economy has now created 245,000 jobs in each of the past three months. Except for a stretch in 2011 when the U.S. job market was flooded with census-related jobs that didn't last, that's the strongest three-month stretch since early 2010.
The economy has now added jobs for six consecutive months, also a recent high.
Despite the encouraging signs, experts are not yet convinced the U.S. jobs engine is returning to full capacity. "Whether or not job markets are improving depends upon your starting point," Scotiabank economist Derek Holt said.
"Yes, the pace of job gains has accelerated since last spring … but if we evaluate job growth over the full recovery period, it's difficult to see a big trend breakout as opposed to sizable swings within a volatile range," Holt said.
That's not to say many individual U.S. job seekers are starting to see green shoots of recovery in their own job searches. Elaine Gregg, 65, was unemployed for the final eight months of 2011 before she secured a job as an office manager at a law firm in Washington, D.C., in January.
"I'm an optimist," she told CBC News on Friday. "It's hard to believe considering what I've gone through in the last year, but I still am," she said.
Optimism like that could be a boon to the re-election hopes of President Barack Obama, but he still faces the highest unemployment rate of any U.S. president in an election year since before the Second World War.
"I like President Obama," Gregg said. "I think he's doing a job. It's getting better … I don't think the Republicans could have done any better," she said.
But the strong headline numbers belie problems in the U.S. job market, Scotiabank currency strategist Camilla Sutton noted Friday. Youth unemployment remains at levels far above where it's been during previous recessions, and despite the gains, the U.S. economy has only replaced about 40 per cent of the jobs it lost during the recession.
"Regardless of today’s release, it is still a long road ahead for U.S. employment," Sutton said.