That's a pleasant surprise. Economists expected the unemployment rate to rise to 9.8 percent, after winter storms in February kept many construction and retail workers home.
But if you are among the many people worried about hordes of unemployed borrowers falling further behind in their mortgage payments, potentially leading to millions of new home loan foreclosures later this year, then today's news provides little reassurance.
The jobless recovery predicted by economists continues to limp forward. While bankers' bonuses, the stock market, and the gross domestic product have all recovered to varying degrees over the last year, the unemployment rate continues to wobble close to its worst rate in decades.
The 9.7 percent unemployment rate translates to 14.9 million unemployed people out there pounding the pavement. Another 8.8 million people are working part-time for lack of a full-time job, an increase of half a million from January. And an additional 1.2 million people are what federal officials call "discouraged workers" who want jobs but have give up looking.
Total non-farm payroll employment fell by 36,000 in February. Some media outlets have made these tens of thousands of lost jobs the focus of the story -- the New York Times put it in their headline. Employment in the construction and information industries fell while temporary help services added jobs. But the total change in the number of payroll jobs is tiny compared to the labor market overall.
Since the start of the recession in December 2007, payroll employment has fallen by 8.4 million.
In a bit of good news, initial claims for unemployment, reported Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor, showed improvement.
For the week ending February 27, the seasonally adjusted rate of initial claims for unemployment was 469,000. That's down from 498,000 the week before. California, North Carolina, and Florida saw the biggest reductions in initial unemployment claims.