WASHINGTON - The nation’s payrolls grew by just 21,000 in February and left the unemployment rate stuck at 5.6 percent, just as President Bush revved up a re-election campaign that is counting heavily on a revived economy.
The frustrating news for out-of-work Americans, contained in a jobs snapshot released Friday by the Labor Department, showed a continuation of the slow employment growth the country has been enduring. The net gain in ‘‘nonfarm’’ payrolls — government and private employers — fell well short of the 125,000 jobs that economists had been forecasting.
The little growth there was came from the government. Private-sector employment was flat. ‘‘This remains a jobless recovery, pure and simple,’’ said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch. ‘‘Meaningful job creation remains alarmingly elusive.’’
The report also showed that job creation in December and January was weaker than previously thought. Total payrolls in December grew by just 8,000 and were up by 97,000 in January, according to revised figures.
‘‘People are having difficulty finding a job because companies are still very cautious in taking on new employees,’’ said Lynn Reaser, conomist at Banc of America Capital Management. ‘‘The hiring doors aren’t fully opened.’’
The health of the nation’s economy, especially the job climate, is a major issue in this year’s presidential race. The economy has lost 2.2 million jobs since Bush took office in January 2001.
Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry cited those figures as evidence of what he contends is Bush’s poor handling of the economy. ‘‘For over three years now . . . George Bush has promised the American people that new jobs are on the way. But he’s over-promised and underdelivered,’’ Kerry said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: ‘‘The president’s policies are working to put the economy on the road to a strong recovery. But there is more to do.’’ Treasury Secretary John Snow called on Congress to make the president’s tax cuts permanent as a way to spur job growth.