Unemployment rate stable at 8.3% in February

Job seekers line up to apply for a job opening in Miami, Florida. In February, the U.S. economy overall added 227,000 jobs.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Just a few minutes ago, we got some good news on the job front. The jobless rate in the U.S. held steady at 8.3 percent and the U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in February. It was also stronger than we thought in December and January.

Brett Barker is a portfolio manager at TCW. He joins us live to talk about this. Good morning, Brett.

Brett Barker: Good morning.

Smith: So Brett, what do you make of these numbers?

Barker: A very strong numbers, across the board, as you stated. I think it's a very positive sign for the economy. As you mentioned, back-month employment was revised higher. One thing we look at is temporary help, which is usually a leading indicator -- it was also up. Government layoffs were also down. Usually, traditionally in the past few months, government's been a big contributor to layoffs. And actually, this month it was almost flat. So again, a very positive number across the board.

Smith: So Brett, tell me -- if this number's so strong and we're adding so many jobs, why is it that the unemployment rate isn't going down? Why is it the same as it was last month?

Barker: I think this is the participation rate. And I think what's happened is, the past few months unemployment's fallen because the participation rate has fallen -- which means there's less people in the labor force. But what happened this month, actually, is the participation rate rose, so more people came into the labor force. And offsetting that was more jobs being created. So in the end, we actually had more jobs being created to offset the influx of people in the labor force; so a very good sign.

Smith: So people who had given up are coming back into the labor force.

Barker: And they're finding jobs, which is even better.

Smith: So we've had a couple of months of good jobs news, now -- is the economy coming back? Are we starting to turn around at this point?

Barker: We remain very cautious; we think it's too soon to take a victory lap on this. We saw these kind of numbers last spring as well, with above 200,000 on non-farm payroll. And yet, you had the uprising in Libya; the earthquake in Japan. And by the second half of the year we had more growth scares, and labor growth fell off. So again, we're cautiously optimistic, but we think we need to see a few more of these before we start getting some real confirmation that growth is self-sustaining in the economy.

Smith: Brett Barker with TCW. thank you.

Barker: Thank you.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.
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Some of my friends and family who are still unemployed are now in an otherwise stable condition. For the most part they're in a household with at least one other income. That wasn't the case a year or so ago when people were still being uprooted and purging their earthly possessions and we were all reading about it on facebook.

For example, my brother's wife who lost her job as a school librarian has been volunteering and doing odd jobs like cat sitting and selling stuff on e-bay, while my brother has remain employed and they've adjusted to a lower income. They bought a used economy car instead of a new minivan, like they had been - stuff like that. She's enjoying the stay-at-home-mom thing, and so is my nephew. But she still considers herself unemployed and applies to school systems regularly. She won't apply for anything else at the moment, however.

Another example is a friend who does IT. He lost his permanent job almost two years ago but his wife still works. He's had 3 temporary jobs since then. And so he'd be employed for a few months, then unemployed for a few months, etc. He's been unemployed since before Christmas and as he says "kinda lazy about it" He's planning to queue up for another temp gig this month.

Finally, I have one friend who's a graphic artist who's still in bad straits, she's staying with friends and keeping busy making art but she needs work and a place to live, she can't stay there forever. She very earnestly cooks and cleans for them, but she's a vegan and they're more like "flexitarians"; you might imagine how that plays out.

So, I guess, employment and unemployment isn't just as simple as "X%" like it used to be.

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