US added robust 273K jobs in February before virus escalated

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 4, 2019, file photo, managers wait for job applicants at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood during a job fair in Hollywood, Fla. U.S. businesses added 183,000 jobs in Jan. 2020, a solid gain that shows the economy was largely healthy when the coronavirus outbreak spread further around the globe. Large companies added roughly two-thirds of the jobs, while hiring among smaller firms was relatively weak. Manufacturing and mining firms shed jobs, while hiring in health care and hotels and restaurants was strong. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hiring jumped in February as employers added 273,000 jobs, evidence that the economy was in strong shape before the coronavirus began to sweep through the U.S.

The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, matching a 50-year low, down from 3.6% in January.

The job gain comes from a survey of payrolls in the second week of February, predating the viral outbreak. So far, there are few signs that the job market has been affected by the disease, but most economists expect hiring to slow in the coming months.

Wage growth slowed slightly in February, rising 3% compared with a year earlier, down from a 3.1% annual rate in the prior month. Paychecks have grown at a 3% pace or higher for more than a year and a half but have slowed since reaching 3.5% last summer.