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U.S. employment rises more than expected

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Employers added more workers than projected in June and the unemployment rate fell to an almost six-year low of 6.1 percent, underscoring a brighter U.S. labor market that should help spur the economy.

The addition of 288,000 jobs in June followed a 224,000 gain in May that was bigger than previously estimated, Labor Department figures showed Thursday in Washington, D.C. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 215,000 advance. The jobless rate is the lowest since September 2008. The number of long-term unemployed fell to 3.1 million, showing they’re having greater success finding work.

A rebound in the economy after a first-quarter slump is encouraging companies such as Ford Motor Co. to add to staffing levels, laying the groundwork for a pickup in wages needed to further propel consumer spending. More employment opportunities will probably keep Federal Reserve policy makers on the path to gradually reduce monetary stimulus.

“The labor market kicked into a higher gear in the second quarter,” Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jeffries LLC in New York, said before the report. “You really have to look at the post-first-quarter data, and that’s looking pretty good. Even housing is showing improvement.”

Factories took on the most workers in four months, while payrolls at private service providers climbed by the most since October 2012.

The number of people out of work for 27 weeks or longer—the so-called long-term unemployed—decreased as a percentage of all jobless to 32.8 percent, the lowest since June 2009.

Economist estimates

Payroll estimates of 94 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 145,000 to 290,000 after a previously reported 217,000 advance. The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate Labor Department survey of households, had been projected to hold at 6.3 percent, according to the survey median.

Revisions to prior reports added a total of 29,000 jobs to overall payrolls in the previous two months.

A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed little change in the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that employers are limiting dismissals.

Jobless claims rose by 2,000, to 315,000, in the week ended June 28. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 313,000 claims. Economists’ estimates ranged from 305,000 to 325,000 after an initially reported 312,000 in the week ended June 21.

June claims

In June, applications for jobless benefits ranged from 313,000 to 318,000. Fewer firings typically foreshadow an acceleration of job growth.

Figures from the Commerce Department showed the U.S. trade deficit narrowed 5.6 percent in May to $44.4 billion, helped by record exports. The value of petroleum imports was the smallest since November 2010.

Today’s payrolls report showed that private employment, which excludes government agencies, rose by 262,000 in June after a 224,000 gain the prior month.

The so-called participation rate, which indicates the share of the working-age people in the labor force, held at 62.8 percent.

Help wanted

Help-wanted signs at concrete company Kent Cos. is one indication of an improving labor market. Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway Co. plans to grow by 2,100 positions in 2014. SolarCity Corp. is adding 400 people a month at the rooftop power-system installer. At Ford Motor Co., hiring is so strong that the automaker predicts it may beat a 2011 plan to bring on 12,000 new workers by 2015.

That’s because of stronger demand for automobiles. Cars and light trucks sold at a 16.9 million pace in June, the strongest since July 2006, after a 16.7 million rate in May, based on data from Ward’s Automotive Group. Deliveries at General Motors Co. and Ford, the two largest U.S. automakers, exceeded analysts’ estimates.

Recent strides in the labor market underscore the economy’s snapback from a first-quarter contraction. The economy shrank at a 2.9-percent annualized rate from January through March, the biggest drop-off since the first quarter of 2009, the Commerce Department reported last month. Consumer purchases grew at the weakest pace in five years.

Second quarter

Gross domestic product probably bounced back in the second quarter and will expand at an average 3.1-percent rate in the remaining two quarters of 2014, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey conducted June 6 to June 11. Household purchases are also expected to improve, it showed.

Recent data are consistent with the outlook. Factories, propelled by the strongest orders of the year, sustained gains in June and are poised to be part of the rebound, the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing report showed this week.

Businesses paring their workforce include Key Technology Inc., a Walla Walla, Wash.-based maker of food and material processing automation equipment. The company said it will reduce about 8 percent of its global staff as it remains “vulnerable” to ups and downs in its markets.

Thursday’s Labor Department payrolls report also showed factory hiring increased by 16,000 in June. Employment at private service-providers jumped 236,000. Retailers took on 40,200 employees.

Hourly earnings

Average hourly earnings rose by 0.2 percent for a second month, to $24.45, in June from the prior month, and increased 2 percent over the past 12 months. The average work week for all workers held at 34.5 hours.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last month that she expects consumer spending will continue to grow at a “healthy rate,” in part as bigger income gains materialize.

“My own expectation is that as the labor market begins to tighten, we will see wage growth pick up some,” Yellen told reporters on June 18 after the Fed’s policy meeting. “If we were to fail to see that, frankly I would worry about downside risk to consumer spending.”

Yellen’s dashboard of job market progress spans nine measures, including payrolls, the jobless rate, underemployment, labor force participation, and the share of long-term unemployed workers. It also monitors the job openings rate, layoffs and discharges, the hires rate, and the quits rate.

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