WASHINGTON— For the first time since 1999, American employers have added more than 200,000 jobs a month for four straight months, offering more evidence that the U.S. economy is steadily growing while much of Europe and Asia struggle.
Last month’s gain of 217,000 jobs means the economy has finally recovered all the jobs lost to the Great Recession. And it coincides with indications that American consumers have grown more confident. Auto sales have surged. Manufacturers and service companies are expanding.
“I don’t think we have a boom, but we have a good economy growing at about 3 percent,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo. “We’re pulling away from the rest of the world.”
Still, Friday’s report from the Labor Department showed that pay remains subpar for many workers, millions who want full-time work are still stuck in part-time jobs and the number of people out of work for more than six months remains historically high.
Monthly job growth has averaged 234,000 for the past three months, up sharply from 150,000 in the previous three. The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey, matched April’s 6.3 percent, the lowest in more than five years.
Investors seemed pleased. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 88 points.
Though the economy has regained the nearly 9 million jobs lost to the recession, more hiring is needed, because the working-age U.S. population has grown nearly 7 percent since the recession began. Economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimate that 7 million more jobs would have been needed to keep up with population growth.
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By the numbers
•A hefty 332,000 new jobs last month went to those who finished college, the Labor Department said Friday. That caused the unemployment rate for college graduates to dip to 3.2 percent from 3.3 percent in April.
•The odds of finding work are poor for those who have spent no time on campus. They lost jobs last month. The number of high school graduates who were employed fell by 100,000 in May, and their unemployment rate rose to 6.5 percent from 6.3 percent.
•An additional 56,000 high school dropouts lost jobs last month, causing this category’s unemployment rate to climb to 9.1 percent from 8.9 percent.