WASHINGTON - (AP) - Employers in February hired at the fastest pace in almost a year and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent - a nearly two-year low.

The economy added 192,000 jobs last month, with factories,professional and business services, education and health care amongthose expanding employment. Retailers, however, trimmed jobs. Stateand local government, wrestling with budget shortfalls, slashed30,000 jobs, the most since November.

The government's report Friday bolstered hopes that employerswill shift into a more aggressively hiring mode and allow theeconomic recovery to get on firmer footing.

The unemployment rate has been falling for three months, downfrom 9.8 percent in November.