U.S. employers added a healthy 255,000 jobs in July, a sign of confidence amid sluggish economic growth that points to a resilient economy.
At the same time, the unemployment rate remained a low 4.9 percent, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report. More Americans launched job searches, and nearly all were hired. But the influx of job seekers meant that the number of unemployed fell only slightly.
The figures suggest that U.S. employers shook off concerns about Britain's late-June vote to quit the European Union. Nor were they apparently discouraged by the economy's tepid growth in the first half of the year: Just 1 percent at an annual rate. The solid hiring could fuel a rebound by the economy in the second half of this year, with more paychecks and higher pay fueling more spending.
Average hourly pay picked up in July and is 2.6 percent higher than it was a year ago, matching the fastest pace since the recession. With the unemployment rate low, that suggests employers are being forced to compete with one another for new hires by offering higher pay.
Solid hiring occurred last month across a range of industries, including middle- and high-wage jobs, one factor that likely boosted average pay. Professional and business services, which includes architects, engineers and managers, added 70,000 jobs, the most since October.
Financial services added 18,000 and construction 14,000. Government positions rose 38,000, the most in more than a year.
Health care, which includes jobs at all pay levels, gained nearly 49,000 new jobs. Hotels and restaurants added 27,000.
Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, said the report wasn't as rosy as it appeared on the surface.
"Overall employment grew by 255,000 persons, but almost 100,000 of the net job growth was in part time employment for economic reasons, and 150,000 more were part time for non-economic reasons," he wrote in a report. "So, full-time employment actually shrank in July. Moreover, the number of multiple jobholders in the economy rose by 275,000, so the July numbers do not reflect more people actually working, but rather more people working part-time and holding more than one job."
He also noted that wages rose by an annual rate of 0.97 percent, which is beneath the level of inflation.
July's robust job gain may be enough to reassure investors — and perhaps Federal Reserve policymakers — that the economy will pick up. Its growth has been weak since last fall. The economy has been driven by consumers, who ramped up spending in the April-June quarter at the second-fastest pace since the recession.
Many analysts expect the economy to rebound in the second half of the year, with one of the most optimistic estimates coming from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta: It predicts that annualized growth will reach 3.7 percent in the current July-September quarter.
Public perceptions of the economy have been largely negative during this election season despite low unemployment. A top adviser to Donald Trump said last week that the annual economic growth rate of just 1.2 percent in the April-June quarter was "catastrophic."
The labor force participation rate ticked up one-tenth in July, to 62.8 percent, still mired near a generational low. Those counted as not in the labor force decreased by 184,000, to 94.3 million.
Hillary Clinton has tended to credit the Obama administration for rescuing the economy from the Great Recession but has also said "none of us can be satisfied with the status quo."
Other recent economic data have been mixed. Americans are confident enough to step up home purchases, aided by near-record-low mortgage rates. Sales of existing homes reached a nine-year high in June, and sales of new homes accelerated to an eight-year high.
Services companies, which range from retailers to banks to shipping firms, expanded at a healthy pace in July, according to a survey by the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group. Their expansion slowed a bit from the previous month. But new orders picked up, a sign that growth could remain healthy.
But manufacturing continues to struggle and is weighing on hiring. Factories received fewer orders in June for a third straight month. Weak growth overseas and a stronger dollar have cut into many companies' overseas businesses. And auto sales have leveled off, according to data released this week.
The slowdown in manufacturing has cost jobs: Factory employment has fallen about 30,000 in the past year, depriving the economy of key middle-income positions.
Job growth has been stronger in higher-income occupations, such as managers, engineers and accountants. Lower-wage jobs at hotels, restaurants and retail stores have also grown at a healthy pace. Both trends add to a long-running dynamic that has caused hiring for middle-income jobs to lag behind hiring for high- and low-paying positions.