U.S. payrolls surge, bolster Fed rate hike prospects

U.S. payrolls surge, bolster Fed rate hike prospects

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Job seekers break out to visit corporate employment personnel at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation "Hiring Our Heroes" military job fair in Washington January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

U.S. employment gains surged in February, the clearest sign yet of labor market strength that could further ease fears the economy was heading into recession and allow the Federal Reserve to gradually raise interest rates this year.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 242,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. The unemployment rate held at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent even as more people piled into the labor market.

“This is the best news the Fed could have expected going into the meeting. With jobs bouncing back, you can be sure that rate hikes are just around the corner,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

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