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Trump administration defends U.S. economic performance as job gains plunge

Staff Writer |
U.S. President Donald Trump and his top economic adviser on Friday defended the country's economic performance following a new report by the Labor Department that showed job gains plunged to 20,000 in February.

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The growth in non-farm payroll jobs in February stood in stark contrast with the January number of 311,000, according to the report, which also said that the U.S. economy added an average of 223,000 new jobs per month in 2018.

With respect to specific sectors, professional and business services, health care, wholesale trade and manufacturing saw job increases, while construction witnessed job losses.

Employment in leisure and hospitality, mining, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities and government showed little or no change over the month, the data showed.

The unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percentage point month-on-month to 3.8 percent in February, and the number of unemployed persons decreased by 300,000 to 6.2 million, the report said.

The labor force participation rate held steady at 63.2 percent and has changed little over the year.

In February, the department said, the average hourly earnings for all employees on private non-farm payrolls rose by 11 cents to 27.66 U.S. dollars, following a 2-cent gain in January. For the full year of 2018, average hourly earnings increased by 3.4 percent.

The growth in total non-farm payroll employment for December was revised up from 222,000 to 227,000, and from 304,000 to 311,000 for January, according to the report. Combined, job gains in those two months were 12,000 more than previously reported.

Shortly after the report came out, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council and a top advisor to President Donald Trump, discouraged people from paying any attention to the weak job growth, the lowest monthly increase since September 2017.

"Look, I think you have timing issues with respect to the government shutdown, winter seasonal issues," Kudlow told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "Very fluky. I wouldn't pay any attention to it to be honest with you."

"Despite the silly fluky number," Kudlow said, "the outlook for the American economy is still 3 percent growth plus."

Trump in a morning tweet also tried to direct people's attention to the bright side of the latest statistics. He singled out the decline in women's unemployment rate.

"Women's unemployment rate is down to 3.6% - was 7.9% in January, 2011. Things are looking good!" the president wrote.

"The biggest factor in the growth of jobs in the past year is, guess what, women!" Kudlow said in remarks echoing Trump's tweet, on a day when the world celebrates the International Women's Day.

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