(USA TODAY) - The high-flying labor market showed no let-up in July as employers added 209,000 jobs.The unemployment rate rose to 6.2% from 6.1%, the Labor Department said Friday, as 329,000 additional Americans, including many who had given up their job searches, surged back into the labor force.
Economists had estimated that 238,000 jobs were created last month, according to the median forecast from Action Economics survey.
Although July's gains fell short of estimates and the average job growth of nearly 230,000 a month so far this year, it marked the sixth straight month of 200,000-plus employment increases — the longest such stretch since 1997.
Businesses added 198,000 jobs, led by professional and business services, manufacturing, retail and construction. Federal, state and local governments added 11,000.
Job gains for May and June were revised up by a total 15,000. May's was revised to 229,000 from 224,000 and June's to 298,000 from 288,000.
Some other labor market indicators were mixed. The number of Americans out of work at least six months dropped by 74,000 to 3.2 million. The long-term unemployed still make up 33% of all the jobless.
And the so-called underemployment rate -- which includes discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs and part-time employees who prefer full-time work as well as the unemployed — ticked up to 12.2% from 12.1%.
The average work week was unchanged at 34.5 hours for the fifth straight month. Employers often add hours before adding staffers. Hourly earnings rose just one cent to $24.45.
The labor market's recovery has broadened recently, with solid job gains spreading to industries such as architecture and engineering, finance and computers. Previously, the increases are dominated by low-wage jobs in sectors such as restaurants and home healthcare.
Economists, however, are still looking for stronger wage growth that can propel consumer spending. Pay increases have averaged 2% so far in the recovery, barely enough to keep up with inflation. Many economists expect raises to accelerate in the second half of the year, with industries such as leisure and hospitality and construction already showing a pickup.
This week, the government said the economy grew at a better-than-expected 4% annual pace in the second quarter and revised its estimate of the first-quarter's contraction to 2.1% from 2.9%. A strengthening economy is expected to support further job growth.
Rapid employment gains have bolstered consumer confidence, which hit a seven-year high in July.