On another encouraging note, the economy ended up adding 55,000 more jobs in December and January combined than the government estimated a month ago. Workers’ wages grew briskly, another sign that the job market is in fundamentally good shape, analysts said. Average hourly earnings jumped to $17.16 in February, from $16.49 a year earlier. That represented a solid 4.1 percent increase over the last 12 months.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – The unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 percent and workers got fatter paychecks in February, even as bad winter weather sent a bit of a chill through U.S. job growth. The latest employment picture, released by the Labor Department on Friday, suggested employers are holding up well and opportunities continue for job seekers as the economy deals with a sluggish spell, a housing slump and troubles in the automotive industry. Employers – both private companies and the government – added a total of 97,000 new jobs to their payrolls in February, the fewest in two years. Lousy winter weather was blamed for much of the slower job growth. Construction companies – already feeling the strain of the ailing housing market – slashed 62,000 jobs in February, the most in 16 years, as nasty weather hit many parts of the country. Meanwhile, factories, coping with slowing economic conditions at home and intense competition from abroad, continued to cut jobs. They eliminated 14,000 positions last month. Those job losses, however, were eclipsed by employment gains elsewhere including at health care facilities, financial companies, computer-design firms, bars and restaurants, retailers and the government. “The job market remains relatively healthy. The weather certainly delivered a lashing to the job market in February, particularly in the construction business as snow, ice, and sleet hammered parts of the country,” said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Bank of America’s Investment Strategies Group. “Still, companies cautiously have the hiring mats out and workers are making more money.” In financial markets, the employment news gave a boost to the Dow Jones industrials. The index rose 15.62 points to close at 12,276.32, after trading in both positive and negative territory over the course of the day. The drop in the unemployment rate from 4.6 percent in January came as people left the work force in February. Economists said bad weather made it difficult for people to get out and look for jobs. Taking those factors into account, February’s jobless rate, the lowest since December, still should ease any fears that the economy could be headed for a worse-than-anticipated slowdown in growth, analysts said.