US job growth increased more than expected in February and wages grinded higher, which could give the Federal Reserve the green light to raise interest rates next week despite slowing economic growth.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 235,000 jobs last month as the construction sector recorded its largest gain in nearly 10 years due to unseasonably warm weather, the Labour Department said.
January's employment gains were revised up to 238,000 from the previously reported 227,000.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen signalled last week that the US central bank would likely hike rates at its March 14-15 policy meeting.
Job gains averaged 209,000 per month over the past three months, well above the 75,000 to 100,000 needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population.
"The report seals the deal for a rate hike next week. The labour market is where the Fed wants it to be," said Gus Faucher, deputy chief economist at PNC Financial in Pittsburgh.
Last month's brisk clip of hiring was accompanied by steady wage growth, with average hourly earnings rising 6 cents, or 0.2 per cent.
January's wage growth was revised up to 0.2 per cent from the previous 0.1 per cent gain. That lifted the year-on-year increase in wages to 2.8 per cent from 2.6 per cent in January.
The unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.7 per cent, even as more people rushed into the labour market, encouraged by the hiring spree.
Economists had forecast employment increasing by 190,000 jobs last month.
The annual wage increase is close to the 3.0 per cent to 3.5 per cent range that economists say is needed to lift inflation to the Fed's 2.0 per cent target.
Inflation is already firming, in part as commodity prices rise, according to Reuters.