Hiring picked up in February, helping to bring the unemployment rate down to its lowest level since before Obama took office.
The economy added 236,000 jobs in February, according to a Labor Department report released Friday. That's much stronger growth than in January, when employers hired a revised 119,000 workers.
The gains were broad-based as offices, restaurants, construction firms and hospitals all added jobs.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate dipped to 7.7%, as 12 million workers were counted as unemployed. The drop was partly because more people said they got jobs, but also because 130,000 people dropped out of the labor force.
The data from the Labor Department on Friday showed the economy gaining traction. The jobless rate fell 0.2 percentage point to 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2008 as more people found work and others gave up the hunt.
Economists welcomed the report, but worried that budget tightening in Washington could slow the recovery's momentum.
"We had already moved from a slog to a jog and we are on course to really get rolling. The risk here is, while the economy is gathering speed, the politicians are stepping on the brakes," said Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services in Boston.
Overall, the U.S. economy has only gained about two thirds of the jobs lost in the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the population has grown and long-term unemployment remains a critical problem.
About 40% of the unemployed have been without a job for at least six months. The average length of unemployment now lasts nine months.
At 13.8%, the unemployment rate is highest for African Americans. Young people are also struggling. Workers ages 20 to 24 had a 13.1% unemployment rate in February, and for teenagers ages 16 to 19, it was 25.1%
Education still makes a big difference. The unemployment rate was only 3.8% for workers over the age of 25 with bachelor's degrees, whereas it was 11.2% for high school dropouts.
Stocks closed out a historic week with another day of gains on Friday, as the Dow hit yet another record closing high on a payrolls report that surpassed even the most optimistic forecasts.