Washington: Employers in the US slashed jobs by 63,000 in February, the most in five years, the starkest sign yet the country is heading dangerously toward recession or is in one already.

The Labour Department's report, released yesterday, also showed that the unemployment rate dipped to 4.8 per cent as hundreds of thousands of people - perhaps discouraged by their prospects - left the civilian labour force.

The jobless rate was 4.9 per cent in January.

Job losses were widespread, with hefty cuts coming from construction, manufacturing, retailing and a variety of professional and business services. Those losses swamped gains elsewhere including education and health care, leisure and hospitality, and the government.

The latest snapshot of the US's employment climate underscored the heavy toll of the housing and credit crises on companies, jobseekers and the overall economy.

The report also showed that the job losses suffered in January were worse than the government first reported.