(Bloomberg) -- Employers added more jobs than forecast in February and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent, the lowest in almost seven years, showing the labor market is sustaining progress after the best performance since 1999.

The 295,000 advance in payrolls last month followed a 239,000 January increase that was smaller than previously reported, figures from the Labor Department showed Friday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 235,000 increase. The unemployment rate fell from 5.7 percent, while hourly earnings rose less than forecast.

The report underscores a lingering appetite among companies to boost headcounts as increased purchasing power from cheaper fuel supports consumer spending. A missing link continues to be faster wage growth that will be needed to ensure household purchases accelerate.

“There is solid momentum in the U.S. labor market,” Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. “We feel comfortable that we are going to see a pickup in wage growth as firms have to attract and retain workers, given an improving economic backdrop.”

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