WASHINGTON - The American job market isn't just growing. It's accelerating.
Employers added 236,000 jobs in February and drove down the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in more than four years. The gains signal that companies are confident enough in the economy to intensify hiring even in the face of tax increases and government spending cuts.
Last month capped a fourth-month hiring spree in which employers have added an average of more than 200,000 jobs a month. The hiring has been fueled by steady improvement in housing, auto sales, manufacturing and corporate profits, along with record-low borrowing rates.
In this Feb. 25, photo, Ann Oganesian, left, of Newton, Mass., pauses as she speaks with a State Department employee about job opportunities with the federal government during a job fair in Boston. U.S. employers ramped up hiring in February, adding 236,000 jobs and pushing the unemployment rate down to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in January. Stronger hiring shows businesses are confident about the economy, despite higher taxes and government spending cuts.
"The recovery is gathering momentum," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.
Job growth has picked up since summer. Employers added an average of 205,000 jobs a month from November through February. They added an average of 154,000 from July through October and 132,000 from March through June.
The gains could boost consumer spending, adding momentum to the U.S. recovery and helping troubled economies in Europe and Asia.
The U.S. economy is forecast to grow a modest 2 percent this year. Growth will likely be held back by uncertainty about the federal budget, higher Social Security taxes and across-the-board government spending cuts that kicked in March 1. And unemployment remains high nearly four years after the end of the Great Recession. Roughly 12 million people remain out of work.
The unemployment rate declined in February from 7.9 percent in January mostly because more people found work. Another factor was that 130,000 people without jobs stopped looking for work last month. The government doesn't count them as unemployed.