The labor market continued to gain momentum and defy a mixed economy in June as employers added 288,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.1% vs. 6.3% in May.
Economists had estimated that 215,000 jobs were added last month.
The economy has now gained 200,000 jobs a month for the past five months — the first such stretch since September 1999-January 2000.
in June, businesses added 262,000 jobs, with professional and business services, retail and healthcare leading the broad-based gains. Federal, state and local governments added 26,000.
Also encouraging: Job gains for April and May were revised up by a total 29,000. April's increase was revised to 304,000 from 282,000 and May's to 224,000 from 217,000. April's total marks the first time monthly job gains topped 300,000 since January 2012.
Some other labor market indicators were positive as well.
The number of Americans out of work at least six months dropped by 293,000 to 3.1 million. The long-term unemployed still make up 32.8% of all the jobless.
A broader measure of distress in the job market — which includes part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs, Americans who have given up looking for work and the unemployed — dipped to 12.1% from 12.2%.
The average work week was unchanged at 34.5 hours for the fourth straight month. Employers often add hours before adding staffers. Hourly earnings rose 6 cents to $24.45.
Several economists expected continued strong employment advances after private payroll processor ADP released its own survey Wednesday that showed businesses added 281,000 jobs in June – the most since November 2012.
Also, initial jobless claims have fallen to prerecession levels and surveys of service-sector employment are indicating a pickup in hiring. Outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas said Thursday that announced job cuts fell to 31,434 in June from 52,961 in May and are down 5% so far this year,
Goldman Sachs had cautioned that the labor market might have taken a breather in June after four months of 200,000-plus gains, noting that a bounce-back in hiring after the harsh winter weather may be losing steam.
The surprisingly resilient job market has contrasted with an economy that contracted 2.9% in the first quarter — its worst performance in five years — and weak consumer spending recently.