3 reasons why the jobs report is really good
FORTUNE – After reaching record highs, U.S. markets have a few more reasons to celebrate Friday as the government released its monthly report on the state of the jobs market. In February, the economy added 236,000 jobs, which helped lower the unemployment rate to 7.7% from 7.8% last month.
It’s still a rough job market out there, but this report is better than most analysts expected. February’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since the end of 2008. What’s more, the economy has been creating jobs slightly faster than it previously did. Whereas an average of about 183,000 jobs were added during all of last year, the pace has picked in the past four months to an average of 205,000 a month.
The hope is that this isn’t just a blip; that the recovery might finally be speeding up. Here are three reasons why Friday’s job report is really good:
1. We’re building homes
Thanks to the U.S. housing recovery, more Americans are working today. Nationwide, home prices and sales have risen, as the inventory of unsold homes shrinks and mortgage rates stay ultra-low. In February, employment in construction rose by 48,000 — 17,100 of which reflect construction of single-family homes, apartments, and other residences.
This might not seem much, but year over year residential jobs grew 3.4% — outpacing the 1.5% overall jobs growth during the same period, says Jed Kolko, economist at Trulia, a real estate listings website.
2. We’re working a little longer (and earning a little more, too)
Some employees might complain about working too much, but the countless workers who feel lucky to have a job welcome longer hours. In February, employers also boosted hours worked, which could signal that there’s enough work to go around to justify hiring more full-time employees in the months ahead. The average work week for all employees in the private sector rose by six minutes to 34.5 hours.
Pay also picked up. The average hourly earnings rose 0.2% to $23.83.
3. We’re spending less time searching for jobs
For all those out-of-work job hunters, be glad that you’re not spending as many days in your pajamas surfing the Internet for work. In February, it took almost two months less to find a job than it did more than two years ago. To be sure, the median duration rose slightly to 17.8 weeks in February from the previous month’s 16 weeks, but it’s far shorter than it was during the same month a year ago (20.1 weeks) and even shorter than it was in June 2010 when the median duration was 25 weeks.
All this makes a strong jobs report, but it bears reminding that it remains to be seen if job growth will continue at this pace. Last week, $85 billion worth of spending cuts automatically kicked in when Congress failed to strike a budget-deficit deal. Analysts have estimated the cuts could cost the economy 700,000 jobs by the end of 2014.
If the housing industry continues to recover, it will be worth watching if the rise in construction jobs might offset the fall in government layoffs, of which there were 10,000 in February.
Fortune.com Senior Editor Stephen Gandel contributed to this report