The US jobs market brightened in February as the unemployment rate tumbled and jobs growth picked up, official data released Friday showed.
The jobless rate fell to 7.7 percent, from 7.9 percent in January, and the US gained a net 236,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.
The jobless rate was the lowest since December 2008, when it stood at 7.3 percent as the rate was climbing in the depths of the Great Recession.
The numbers were much better than analysts expected. The average estimate was for the jobless rate to stay stuck at 7.9 percent for the second month in a row and additional jobs to total only 165,000.
But the January jobs growth number was revised down to 119,000 jobs from an initial estimate of 180,000.
"The data add to evidence that momentum in the labor market has strengthened further," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.
"Even without any further acceleration, the trend in job growth has been strong enough to keep unemployment coming down."
The private sector once again drove jobs growth, adding 246,000 posts in February, led by profession and business services, the reviving construction industry, and health care.
The government shed 10,000 jobs, continuing cutbacks that were due grow worse after the March 1 launch of drastic "sequester" spending cuts aimed at reducing the government's deficit and debt.
The dollar immediately gained more than one cent against the euro, trading at around $1.2980 to the eurozone currency, and jumped to 125.0 yen.
Total employment climbed in the three months before February, November to January, by an average of 195,000 jobs a month.
Economists say the economy needs to create about 250,000 jobs a month to significantly lower the jobless rate.
Behind the improved headline numbers, the report revealed persistent strains in the troubled jobs market, the prime obstacle holding back the recovery from recession.
The number of people unemployed edged lower, to 12.0 million, but the number of the long-term unemployed -- people without jobs for at least 27 weeks -- was essentially unchanged at 4.8 million, or two out of every five people unemployed.