The job market rebounded from a two-month slump in February as employers added 175,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate rose to 6.7% from 6.6%, the Labor Department said Friday.
The report beat most expectations, pumping up stock futures ahead of the market's opening bell.
Economists surveyed by Action Economics estimated that 157,000 jobs were added last month.
Businesses added 162,000 jobs, led by strong increases in professional and business services and education and health care. Federal, state and local governments added 13,000 jobs.
Employment gains for December and January were revised up by a total 25,000. December's were revised to 84,000 from 75,000 and January's to 129,000 from 113,000.
Despite the solid payroll advances, the unemployment rate, which is derived from a different survey, ticked up in part because the labor force rose by 264,000, including previously discouraged workers resumed their job searches.
Some other labor market indicators were mixed. The average workweek dipped to 34.2 hours from 34.3 hours, with the poor weather likely contributing to reduced hours. Average hourly earnings rose nine cents to $24.31.
A possible bright spot is that the number of temporary employees increased by 24,000. Companies typically bring on contingent workers before adding to permanent staff.
And a broader measure of distress in the job market that includes part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs and those who've given up looking for work, as well as the unemployed—dipped to 12.6% from 12.7%.
Many analysts had predicted another month of tepid job gains after a survey by private payroll processor ADP showed businesses added just 139,000 jobs last month. A measure of service-sector employment also fell sharply in February and reports on housing, retail sales and factory output have been weak amid an unusually cold and stormy winter.
Monthly job gains averaged 200,000-plus last fall before the adverse weather helped lower average gains to about half that in December and January. Yet some economists say other factors also have hurt the economy and labor market, such as a slowdown in business stockpiling after firms aggressively replenished shelves late last year.