Hiring by U.S. businesses picked up last month as the omicron variant of the coronavirus faded and more Americans started to dine out, shop and stay in hotels, despite climbing inflation.

U.S. employers added 678,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department reported Friday, a gain that underscored the American economy’s solid health. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.8% from 4%, its lowest level since the pandemic began two years ago this month.

In a statement Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden said his plan “to build America from the bottom up and the middle out” was working. “Since I took office, the economy has created 7.4 million jobs. That’s 7.4 million jobs providing families with dignity and a little more breathing room,” he said. “We are building a better America.”

Friday’s hiring figures were collected before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent oil prices jumping and has amplified risks and ambiguities for economies in Europe and the rest of the world. Escalating costs for Ukrainian and Russian exports such as gasoline, wheat and aluminum will likely accelerate inflation in the coming months, economists said.

The economy still has 2.1 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic erupted, though the gap is closing fast.

Inflation has reached its highest level since 1982, squeezing America’s households and businesses, with the costs of rent, food and gasoline sharply increasing. Beginning later this month, the Federal Reserve is set to raise interest rates — the first of many rate increases expected this year. Consumers and businesses will face higher borrowing rates on home and auto loans and credit cards.

“While we must tackle head on the challenge families are facing with rising costs, today’s report underscores that the United States is uniquely well-positioned to deal with the challenge that inflation has posed across the world as we recover from the pandemic,” Biden said.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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