U.S. added only 20,000 jobs last month — fewest since September 2017

The US economy added only 20,000 jobs in February, a surprisingly low number that bucked the trend of huge jobs gains in recent months.

That was the fewest jobs gained in a month since September 2017.

The unemployment rate fell to 3.8%, as fewer unemployed people were looking for work. The Labor Department suggested that furloughed workers from the government shutdown returning to work also contributed to the the lower unemployment rate.

Economists surveyed by Refinitiv had expected the economy to add 180,000 jobs, saying that the underlying pace of job growth was strong. So this was a big miss. The past two months were revised only slightly.

The numbers may be a sign that after 101 consecutive months of job growth, the economy is running out of available workers. Wages posted the strongest year-over-year percentage gain since 2009, at 3.4%.

The number of people working part time for economic reasons plunged by 837,000. That means employers may have brought people on full-time because of the difficulty of finding new employees — although the average workweek declined slightly.

There have been fewer unemployed people than open jobs since June 2018.

The construction industry lost 31,000 jobs in February, possibly due to bad weather. Leisure and hospitality employers added no jobs, after increasing their payrolls by 410,000 over the past year.

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